Exploring the Public Good in New York City

On Friday, March 28th, local and international scholars, activists, and writers will come together through For the Public Good, a day-long conference co-sponsored by BCRW dedicated to discussion, collaboration, and problem-solving around the current challenges to providing healthy, safe, and fulfilling lives for everyone. The opening panel, Exploring the Public Good in New York City, will feature local activists from different fields who all are involved with creative solutions to the unique challenges that New York faces. This panel will include John Blasco, Nico Fonseca, Ede Fox, Amanda Geller, and Robert Hawkins.

From FIERCE, an organization led by and serving LGBTQ youth of color in New York City, are speakers John Blasco (Lead Organizer) and Nico Fonseca (Youth Organizer). John has been a member of the FIERCE staff since 2009 and as the Lead Organizer, they have been heavily involved in FIERCE’s campaign work and leadership programs. In addition to Youth Organizer, Nico is also currently a Campaign Fellow at FIERCE and has helped to develop curriculum for and co-facilitate a National LGBTQ Youth of Color Summit in Chicago, Illinois in February 2013. FIERCE focuses on a broad scope of issues that most saliently affect its community, including fighting against criminalization and police violence, speaking out against gentrification, and creating and expanding access to safer spaces for LGBTQ youth of color. FIERCE is a community movement whose membership base is made up of those affected by the issues it tackles and focuses on building leadership of LGBTQ youth of color in order to empower the next generation of activists.

Ede Fox is highly active in local New York City politics and community based movements, having had years of experience working with the New York City Council. She is one of the co-founders and currently the president of Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform (PHDR), a group that works to engage community members with local politics and create a space where Prospect Heights residents are able to bring up and discuss problems and work together to find creative solutions. PHDR demands accountability and transparency from its local elected officials, and relies on the power and importance of including residents in the democratic process. The main issues PHDR organizes around are: access to affordable housing, increasing the inclusivity and quality of education, improving the environment, making communities livable, decreasing crime through alternatives to incarceration and police violence, and supporting local businesses.

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Bringing Good Back to the People

On March 28, BCRW will gather a variety of scholars, activists, and writers for a two-day conference to discuss various approaches to reshaping our social infrastructure to most effectively support the public’s best interest. The conference will be the culmination in a series of events from the project For the Public Good, which began in 2011.

The first event introduced the concept of “public good,” examining a wide range of issues such as the environment, information media, and education. Hosted by a range of professors coming from schools such as Rutgers and CUNY, the panelists discussed how the recent global financial crisis led to the privatization of assets and services that were once public, thus harming the “public good.” In a blog post on Barnard’s website, Hilary Symington wrote, “the speakers all said…that the neo-liberal trickle-down system has failed, that the public good can no longer be entrusted to private companies, and that free-trade policies are not the answer.” Also in a blog post for Barnard’s website, BCRW Associate Director Catherine Sameh compared the conference to the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement, noting that “the privatization of formerly public goods like education, water, healthcare, libraries, the Internet and parks for the profit of individuals and transnational corporations has been, as panelist Nancy Holmstrom argued, an historic process of ‘political decisions and struggles,’ naturalized over time, and seemingly intractable…. she made central the need for reversing the current prioritization of neoliberal privatization over and against public goods.”

"It is not a good investment," Illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green, from the MANSION by Henry Van Dyke, published by Harper&Brothers Publishers New York and London (1911), Retrieved from Flickr.com

“It is not a good investment,” Illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green, from the MANSION by Henry Van Dyke, published by Harper&Brothers Publishers New York and London (1911), Retrieved from Flickr.com

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Reading Life (Un)Ltd: Feminism, Bioscience, Race

The newest edition of the Scholar & Feminist Online is entitled Life (Un)Ltd: Feminism, Bioscience, Race and “is devoted to new scholarship at the intersection of science and technology studies (hereafter STS), race/postcolonial studies, and feminist and queer theory” (Rachel C. Lee, “Introduction”). In reading the articles in this issue, however, I noticed another critical concept that is central to these intersections: the concept of morality.

In many ways, morality is an important concept to explore in a series of articles that largely aims to problematize our conception of science and technology as impartial and infallible—as objective “fact.” Yet the interweaving of morality within this edition of the journal was still unsettling, perhaps because the morality described by the articles was not a morality developed and maintained by bioscience based on the power it is given in society. Rather, many articles discussed a shirked responsibility to morality on the part of bioscience and an externalization and imposition of this morality to the individuals upon which the science is being acted.

The title of this issue addresses most directly this shirking of moral responsibilities on the part of science and technology that is increasingly commercialized through large corporations. The use of “Ltd.” calls to mind LLCs–limited liability corporations–that shield their investors from legal responsibilities while allowing them to reap financial gains. “Life LTD” recalls the human costs of these gains that are externalized to marginalized, laboring communities. This suspension of morality is taken up by Michelle Murphy in “Distributed Reproduction, Chemical Violence, and Latency,” and Diane Nelson’s “Yes to Life = No to Mining:’ Counting as Biotechnology in Life (Ltd) Guatemala.” In both pieces, the authors problematize moral responsibility by adding a long-term temporal lens to corporate morality. In the case of river pollution and mining in Guatemala, respectively, the health risks of corporate behavior have yet to be realized, although it is well known they will appear later, and therefore allows corporate behavior to play risk games on the health and lives of others. How can we hold these corporations accountable before evidence of their moral disinterest develops? These discussions of the externalization and privatization of risk to the individual level–and carried most heavily by marginalized communities–provide an extension and science-based focus of much of the thinking of the last Scholar & Feminist edition, Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations


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From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom

On April 11th-April 13th, the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) will be hosting its 28th Annual Conference at Hampshire College. The aim of this conference is to connect students, academics, and community activists from varying generations and communities all across the world in a collaborative effort to create, exchange dialogue, share ideas and knowledge, and inspire growth. Through this work they aspire to strengthen the movement for reproductive freedom and social change. Programming for the conference includes plenaries, workshops, panels, and trainings.

Each year the conference program features Breaking Silences: An Abortion Speak Out. The first speak out took place in 1969 by members of Redstockings, a radical feminist group. Following a discussion comprised of “fifteen male experts” from the New York Joint Legislature Committee to reform a 86-year-old law prohibiting abortion, they maintained that there was a need for women’s voices to be heard. This portion of the conference gives individuals who have had an abortion a platform to share their experience in a safe encouraging space, allowing individuals a healthy and supportive framework to have conversations and engage with their lived experiences.

Previous participants have described the experience as:

“The abortion speak out was one of the most powerful, transformative experiences I have ever had. I’ve worked in reproductive rights advocacy in a variety of ways, but I never expected this event to touch me in the way that it did.” —Jayna P.

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African Women’s Rights and Resilience

To celebrate National Women’s Day, Barnard will host the African Women’s Rights and Resilience symposium with Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-sponsored by the Gbowee Peace Foundation, Barnard’s Africana Studies Department, the Athena Center for Women’s Leadership, BCRW, and the Barnard College President’s office. The symposium will consist of three panel discussions addressing integral points of continental women’s movements: “Women’s Rights and Transnational Feminisms,” “African Men and Feminisms,” and “Intergenerational Organizing.”

Leymah Gbowee leads a group of women

This semester, I am taking Professor Tina Campt‘s Feminist Theory course, a staple for any Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major. I was happy to discover that this semester’s course is co-taught with Ms. Gbowee. I often find myself treading the lines between optimism and realism, so it is easy to understand why, when reading that Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee would be co-teaching this course, I assumed the syllabus had a typo. After reading excerpts from her book, Mighty Be Our Powers, and watching the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I was in disbelief as Ms. Gbowee casually walked into my classroom, sat down and introduced herself. I don’t think I am adequately expressing the gravity of this moment: Leymah Gbowee walked into my class–MY classroom–she who helped lead a women’s peace movement with a coalition of Muslim and Christian women, helping to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War and to fight the violence against women’s bodies. I could go on and on about her incredible work, but I will spare you the time. Instead I will focus on how she approached our class discussion.

During this class Professor Campt proposed that we interrogate the relationship between “agency”, “resilience”, and “redress”. What stood out to me in particular was the definition of redress. Saidiya Hartman writes in Scenes of Subjection: “redress is a remembering of the social body that occurs precisely in the recognition and articulation of devastation articulation of the broken body.” Redress becomes synonymous with restorative justice.

Ms. Gbowee approached this discussion through the physicality of students’ bodies. She asked two students to join her in the front of the class as she tied them together at the wrists with her scarf. She then asked them to walk in opposite directions and separate themselves. When they were unable to, she elaborated on how progress is limited if we are burdened down by the individuals who harm us. Their bodies were used as representation for ways in which we can begin to attain restorative justice, first through the act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not to be conflated with forgetting, or passive acceptance of malice, never to be mistaken for weakness, because it requires true strength to forgive those who have committed heinous acts against you.

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