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Issue 002

Winter 2008

AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE

Editor in Chief: BOBBY ALLYN Managing Editor: JEFF LAMBERT Layout Editor: JESSICATAICH Chief Copy Editor: MAEG KEANE Section Editor: CHRIS LEWIS

COPY EDITORS:

PHOTOGRAPHERS: JESS KANTOR <duloque@gmail.com> EMILY CREVLING <ec2081 a@american.edu >

Like a story? Hate a story? Want to join AWOL? Write to us: awolau@gmail.com

JACOB LOCKE <duloque@gmail.com>

Support/Affiliations: AWOL is made possible through the support of

KATE LITVIN

<klitvin@comcast.net>

Campus Progress, a project of Center for Ameri­ can Progress, www.campusprogress.org

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS:

MISSION:

RANDALL COLEMAN

AWOL is a student-run independent progres­

<r_coleman22@yahoo.com>

sive magazine that seeks to ignite political

JACOB LOCKE

and cultural discussions on campus. By pro­ viding a space for students to question the

<duloque@gmail.com> SUZANNE MONSIVAIS <sm4847a@student.american.edu>

structural and social framework of American University, AWOL envisions a more egalitar­ ian and socially conscious campus commu­ nity. The publication serves as a resource to grassroots movements by analyzing and reporting on campus, national, and interna­

AVA PAGE <ap4290a@american.edu>

tional topics. We strive to bridge gaps and make connections between people of dif­ ferent regional and political backgrounds.

RICHARD PHILLIPS <rp7282a@american.edu>

Providing extensive, in-depth reporting on is­ sues that do not make the headlines of main­ stream publications while creating a forum

ELIZABETH TSENG

for activists to write, analyze, and organize,

<et3882a@american.edu>

AWOL is a publication that works toward a more progressive future without compromis­

IAN VALENTINE <iancvalentine@gmail.com>

ing issues of today.


EDITORS NOTE:

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This issue we've decided to examine commercialism, consumer culture, and brand psychology. US retail sales have taken an un足 precedented plunge in recent months, sparked by an economy in turmoil - a product of unrestrained, unregulated market capital足 ism. Still, advertising commercial culture permeates every part of our lives, even when consumers don't have expendable capital. The ubiquity of advertisements on billboards, television, the inter足 net, and on our campus confirm its presence as more than bor足 dered designs that garner cursory glances; it seems as if everyone has become a mechanical drone, following the commands, both consciously and unconsciously, of advertising agents who seek to propagandize and make huge profits. We've tried to unpack the underlying assumptions and question the ideology of profit-driven social trends. We hope this issue will change the way you shop and provide you with a different lens to view environmentally-conscious products, religious seminars, PBR, and so much more.

OBITUARIES Editorial....................................................................... 2 Sensual Advertising.................................................3 Earmark Examination............................................. 4 Sold on PBR................................................................ 5 Selling out the Environment..................................6

CLASSIFIEDS The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.......................8 Consumed................................................................ 10 How Much is My Written Answer Worth?.........12 Saving it Up for God............................................. 16

CASUAL ENCOUNTERS A Conservative Assault........................................ 18 Public Safety Scooters.......................................... 19 Thrift Stores.............................................................20

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OBITUARIES EDITORIAL ood isn't cheap. According to the Guardian newspaper, U.S. food prices, which normally rise by about 2.5 percent a year, surged by 4 percent in 2007, the biggest increase in 17 years; these food prices hit cash-strapped college students hard. And while food is expensive for everyone, American Univer­ sity students are hit particularly hard. AU requires all on-cam­ pus freshmen and sophomores to be on meal plans, which cost anywhere from $1,310 for 75 swipes (and 300 "Eaglebuck$") to $2,300 for unlimited swipes. This breaks down to $9.85 a meal for AU students on the 200-block meal plan, $11.87 a swipe for 150 meals, and $13.47 for 75 meals - assuming students use all their meals. Many students can’t burn all their swipes on TDR, the Tavern, and box lunches, leaving accounts with end-of-the-year wasted swipes, lost money. American University does an injustice to its students with its meal plan policy. By mandating meal plans, AU restricts student choice and effectively rips us off. Students are grossly overcharged; the money spent by on a week's worth of meal swipes could easily buy groceries for a month. Granted, the price of a meal swipe includes the labor required to prepare a meal, but $9.85 could afford you a meal, with tip, at many Tenley restaurants. And if you're frugal, $13.47 might get you two. The meal plan requirement has other undue effects. While TDR makes a laudable effort to accommodate the dietary needs of all students, vegetarians, vegans, students with allergies, and others on restrictive diets find their choices to be limited and rote at best. Yet these students still pay full price for a vast array of food they are unable to eat. In addition, students on meal plans have to build their schedule around the dining hall's hours of operation. And if they're planning on buying groceries, add those costs to their yearly food consumption - already strained from the onerous meal plans. Asked in an e-mail why the purchase of meal plans is re­ quired, Housing and Dining director Chris Moody wrote, "First year students living in the residence halls have been required to have meal plans for many, many years at AU." The require­ ment for sophomores was a product of contract renegotiations in 2005 with Bon Appetit, AU's dining contractor. He continued, 'For many years prior to fall 2005, data demonstrated that an average of 94% of sophomores living on campus already had a meal plan each semester, so the new regulation only affected 6%

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of the sophomores living on campus." Moody also claimed that most other American colleges and universities have equally - if not more - restrictive meal plan requirements. But none of this justifies the meal plan requirement. Why should the choices of the 6% be constrained by the preferences of the rest? Most students prior to the requirement were prob­ ably unaware of the option to opt out, anyway. And just because the requirement has been around "for many, many years" does not establish it as fair. Furthermore, other schools demonstrating similar policies lend no credence to its justificotion. Companies like Bon Appetit expect safeguards (such as meal plan requirements) so their enterprise on campuses will be prof­ itable. AU faced mounting pressure to comply with such terms in contract negotiations; schools all over the country are facing similar contract pressures. If Bon Appetit isn't satisfied with the safety of its profits at AU, it'll be hard for the school to obtain a contract. The students are the losers in this arrangement. They are being forced to pay for an over-priced service so a company can collect risk-free profit. We understand that AU's contract negotiators are in a bind. There are many hidden costs and overhead expenses that go into any university cafeteria. But the school's current policy disregards the students it claims to represent. Until the negotiating table becomes less lopsided and the contracts more transparent, AU can at least give students a more active role in the decision-mak­ ing process. A student committee should be formed to take part or consult in negotiations with the school’s private contractors. Student government should also be given a voice when deciding contracts that affect thousands of dollars in every student's bank account. If AU takes these steps, it will be a stride toward a dining system that includes the students’ collective voice, instead of one that is shaped by behind-the-scenes contract negotiations. ■

- Compiled by the AWOL Editors


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Obituaries is dedicated to topics that escape the headlines but deserve attention. Keeping it succinct

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yet hard-hitting, this section captures the issues we want you to know about, offering news bytes with an editorial twist.

■ Editorial ■ Sensual Advertising ■ Sold on PBR

■ Earmark Examination ■ Selling out the Environment

SENSUAL ADVERTISING n 1957, James Vicary, a pioneering marketing researcher, per­ suaded a movie audience to drink Coca-Cola and eat more popcorn without their knowledge or consent. By placing sub­ liminal messages and using frames lasting 1/3000 of a second, Vicary bypassed their conscious minds and placed these com­ mands directly into their subconscious; advertisements could now control us all. Or so he claimed. Five years later, Vicary admitted that he had lied and attempts to replicate his results have found no suc­ cess. Our brains were safe from the advertising agencies. Fifty years later, however, marketing experts have become far more sophisticated in their efforts to subtly, imperceptibly influ­ ence how consumers act. Now they employ letters, smells, music, and brain scans; now, science backs them up. Psychologists have studied how small changes in an en­ vironment affect a person’s opinions and behaviors, and have discovered that it often doesn't take much to dramatically alter a subject's behavior. The faint smell of a cleaning solution, for instance, can inspire a subconscious impulse to tidy up an area, and the presence of a briefcase increases selfish and competitive tendencies. The scientists were manipulating the test subjects' decisions without their consent. The ventral pallidum, or the primal and reptilian part of our brain, lies behind many of these effects; this area controls most of our natural impulses, like flight or fight and sexual arousal, and will often reach a decision before our prefrontal cortex, the conscious part of our brain, realizes it. Of course, marketers already knew this. For years they've as­ sociated every possible product with sex: beer, cigarettes, gum, deodorant, even cars. It's no coincidence that so many car names have an "S" or an "X" in them. TV ads are filled with beautiful, smiling peaple, so that we, collective consumers, associate the product with beauty and smiles. Ads directed at children use rep­ etition and bright colors to burn themselves into o child's memo­ ry. Even an ad's font is chosen with an eye toward subconscious persuasion -Helvetica suggests modernity and simplicity. Didot suggests tradition and reliability, and so on. And this subconscious priming is no fleeting matter. Research­ ers have made test subjects remain cooperative or become ag­ gressive at their discretion for up to twenty minutes. Even your mood isn't your own anymore. Advertising agencies and copywriters have used these tac­

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tics since the first merchant set up his shop on some Babylonian street. What makes modern advertising so different? Research groups use fMRI scons to study what parts of the broin react to different advertisements and products, but how does that differ from the traditional focus group? fMRIs are simply more accurate and specific. Ad agencies began running snack food commercials in the late afternoon after they discovered that consumers are most susceptible to food ads while hungry. Is that more nefarious than running toy commercials during a children's TV show? Do you really think the kids shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch care that smells and sounds (musk and popular music) pumped into the store make them more likely to spend freely? Years after Vicary's results had been discredited, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conducted hearings on the possible threat af subliminal advertising because such techniques were "intended to be deceptive." These new advertising tactics, naw backed by scientific re­ search, are just as deceptive, but the FCC has yet to field com­ plaints. No hearings will be held, and no regulations will be imple­ mented. Consumers will have ta accept and embrace these targeted, subconscious persuasions - if not, they could always just wear earmuffs, blindfolds, and nose plugs whenever they go out shop­ ping. Welcome to the future! ■

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todke enjoys watching the same commercial on his iPhone, computer, and television, simultaneously.

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OBITUARIES

PROGRESSIVE OPINIONS COLUMN

EARMARK EXAMINATION ost assume, quite cynically, that the Washington law-mak­ ing process pads the pockets of big corporations. It is a lot more difficult to wrestle with the idea that not all members of Congress are corrupt; the process of determining corruption is at best, complicated. Unfortunately, not every corrupt member of Congress shares the dimwit and moronic sensibility of Rep. William Jefferson, who left $90,000 of marked bills in his freezer. FBI investigators later recovered the funds. Egregious fraud not­ withstanding, the 66-year-old Congressman was reelected to his New Orleans district this October. One of the more subtle forms of corruption comes in the form of congressionally directed funds, or as they are more commonly know, earmarks. An earmark is a single bill appropriation that di­ rects funding to a specific "pet project" or company, as opposed to a federal agency. On the surface, earmarks make sense. As any member of Congress who takes earmarks is happy to explain, a legislator may be better in tune with the needs of his district than some bureaucrat in Washington. But the problem with these projects is that they invite corruption; special interests promise to make campaign contributions, so members of Congress return the gift with specialized pet projects, financed by tax dollars. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham found himself ensnared in one of the most notorious earmark scandals. He was given an eight-year jail sentence in 2006 after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from companies, which he later rewarded with earmarks. Rep. Duke Cunningham may be just the beginning of crimi­ nal congresspeople using earmarks illegally. Right now. Rep. Don Young is under criminal investigation for bribery from Veco (the same oil services company that is involved in Alaskan Sen.Ted Steven's indictment) and for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere." In the 2005 Transportation Bill, an earmark to widen 1-75 in Florida was changed at the very last minute to an earmark that would only help a specific part of the larger road. This earmark was obtained by Young who received $40,000 in campaign contribu­ tions from developers from this specific part af the road. This sort of earmark is commonplace. This earmark has gained special attention since. Young is from Alaska; there is no conceivable way the earmark could benefit his district. Beyond these horrendous examples, there is a smaller yet more prevalent problem. Take the latest defense autharization bill, which contains a proposed 449 earmarks tataling $9.9 bil­

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lion in the House, and 435 earmarks totaling $5.4 billion in the Senate. On the House Armed Services Committee, 60 percent of the members obtained defense earmarks for specific private companies that they had received campaign contributions from. Perhaps worse, 95 percent of lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee received contributions from a company that received earmarks in the bill. The Defense Autharization Bill represents just one of the many bills where Congresspeople are manipulated by contributions by corporate interests. In order to stop Congress from being bought and sold, we need to either get rid of earmarks entirely or hold our Congres­ sional legislators more fiscally and ethically accountable to the gift-giving corporations they are beholden to; a necessary liability to ensure a fair and transparent democracy. ■


SOLD ON PBR

t a recent party at The University of Maryland in College Park, I tried to prod into the college students' drink of choice. It was, you guessed it, PBR. "Man, I don't care about the image or the politics of it," said UMD senior Jason Frantz. "I drink it 'cause it's cheap, and because it was the only thing in the fridge." But PBR's hip popularity goes deeper than the plight of the poor col­ lege student. There are plenty of cheap beers that could satisfy their economic requirements: Bud Light, Coors Light, Keystone Light, et al. The reason PBR has become their enshrined can, a hallmark of hipsterdom, is the company's inventive ad campaign, or rather, their lack thereof. The beer industry dishes out roughly $1 billion a year in ad­ vertising, an attempt to build a reputation through ubiquitous television and billboards spots. PBR, however, has gained mass popularity by maintaining virtually no advertising presence. Before PBR's ascendance as a hipster cultural commodify, the company was near total collapse. In 2000, Stodgy Pabst was in the process of shutting down its breweries and selling off the company to Miller Brewing Company. But after word got out that PBR was the beer af choice among bike messengers and punks in Partland, the company thought they were on to something. PBR subsequently invested itself in nationwide niche micro-spon­ sorships. They would sponsor independent movie screenings, art opens, and fund small events at urban dive bars, bolstering their image as a hip beer of the working class that doesn't invest in extravagant corporate events. They even went so far as to reject a half millian-dollar deal with Kid Rock, despite his glimmering PBR belt buckle. Not surprisingly, this grassroots, bottom-up market­ ing strategy really belies the corporate ethos that has saved this once-dying company. On the side of every can af Pabst Blue Ribbon is a P.O. box address in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pabst does trace its roots to a Wisconsin brewery founded there in 1844, but this is now a false label. It closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996, eliminating nearly 250 jobs, and now does business out of an office in suburban Chicago. "They really alienated peaple in Milwaukee," says Den­ nis E. Garrett, a marketing professor at Marquette University. In

flickr: passmeabrew

With the release of New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker's new book Buying In, a cultural look at the relationship between consumption culture and new marketing strategies, I thought Td examine a brand that seems to pervade most hip college parties: Pabst Blue Ribbon.

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2001, Pabst finalized its outsourcing deal with Miller, becoming a so-called "virtual brewer," reports Walker. Pabst beer is nat made in American-owned breweries, despite its patriotic color scheme; now that they outsourced to Miller, they produce from a large South African factary. "PBR's blue-collar, honest-working-man im­ age, vaguely anticapitalist image - the image attached to it by consumers - is a sham," Walker writes. "You really couldn't do worse in picking a symbol of resistance to phony branding." Pabst partfolio currently includes Schlitz, Carling Black Label, Falstaff, Olympia, and Stroh's, among several regional malt liquors. PBR's laissez faire marketing strategy has proved to be hugely success­ ful - despite its seemingly counterintuitiveness from a marketing 101 standpoint. "Turns out that PBR actually does have an im­ age," Walker says. "But it's an image that its consumer base can hardly complain about, because they're the anes who created it. That's what makes it perfect." In a political moment characterized by hyper-consolidation and outsourcing, where more and more markets are becoming controlled by monopolies, it really is no surprise that Miller con­ trols PBR, - kind of like how Converse products are made in Chi­ nese Nike factories - but knowing the real narrative behind the red, white, and blue aid-fashioned PBR beer cans is impartant when considering the product as a cultural ar political symbol for this generation. This is not an alarmist call ta boycott PBR, but never call it the beverage of the proletariat or the beer for the working class, because the campany falls short of these titles. To be sure, PBR continues to be one of the more tolerable and taste­ ful cheap beers. ■

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OBITUARIES

Selling Out the Environment? coist, a company that specializes in environmentally friendly handbags and accessories, explains its name an its Web site. An Ecoist is, "an individual that lives a modern, eco-minded lifestyle. Ecoists have no particular age, race, nationality, nor a particular style. Our only common ground is the Earth." With this descriptian, it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't an Ecoist - but that's the point. Ecoist and many ather businesses are finding their niche in this emerging 'green market," and the investment is paying off. You can now find eco-friendly cleaning products, like Seventh Generation's line, atyour local Target and even Wal-Mart. “Going Green" has become a mainstream mantra that is being chanted by nightly news programs, Oprah and even, ironically, by Big Oil companies (Beyond Petroleum, anyone?). Green consumerism is taking our culture by storm, and why shouldn't it? It seems to be the perfect combination for any American: a capitalistic enter­ prise and a way to help the environment. But is the green move­ ment really helping the environment? At least one sociologist, Andrew Szasz of the University of California Santa Cruz, believes many consumers caught up in "Going Green" are hurting the environment. In his recent book. Shopping our Way to Safety, he finds that most people buy green products to protect themselves, not the environment. But if the demand for green products is rising, why should the consumers' intention matter? Szasz writes, "This political anesthesia, in the long run is bad for the environment because it desensitizes con­ sumers to the need to act collectively, politically, to tackle these problems." The case may be even worse than Szasz concludes. A green­ conscious consumer can actually be working against the green ideal, despite their noble intention. For example, a locally grown organic tomato may produce a larger carbon footprint than to­ matoes flown in bulk from another country; a cargo plane can carry more tomatoes than a local farmer's pickup truck, thereby using energy more efficiently. The consumer's intention does not change this outcome. An example that strikes closer to home can be seen in our own campus community. In 2007, AU received a "D-i-" by the Sus­ tainable Endawments Institute for environmental sustainability on a report card that was given to 200 colleges across the U.S. and Canada. With all the greening we see on campus, from the new School of International Service building being LEED Goldcertified to the Library Green Team, how did AU miss the mark? Well, AU received a "B" in the green buildings category, but failed in its endowment policies. According to the Institute, endowment transparency is necessary because it openly shows where the

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school is investing. This can generate a lot of “Green" conversa­ tion about where a school should be investing, from renewoble energy to eco-friendly consumer goods. AU's embarrassing grade is a good example of the "Going Green" trend's failure to address larger, more systemic problems. Sadly, AU is not alone. According to the report card, 58 per­ cent of schools surveyed received an "F" for endowment trans­ parency, while 90 percent of schools passed in the "Administra­ tion, Climate, Recycling, Green Building and Transportation" categories. Green promotion is championed in overt public acts, but when it comes to behind-the-scenes monetary investments, schools are muted. Although there is a long way to go before sustainability be­ comes an ingrained part of the public ethos, schools and busi­ nesses should be applauded for transforming campuses and promoting green living. The more localized groundswell there is for green living the likelier we'll see long-term progress. It's not the green part of green consumerism that's the problem; it's consumerism that undermines political and social unrest by mar­ keting products as the quick-and-easy way to solve grave, global ailments. We shouldn't think of ourselves as sellouts or self-righ­ teous hippies when we buy eco-friendly detergent, so long as we keep in mind that environmental degradation needs to be tackled by social movements, not our wallets. ■


CLASSIFIEDS THE DISTRICT SLEEPS ALONE TONIGHT By Ian Valentine

he old Franklin School at 13th and K NW occupies o small plot of land in the heart of downtown Washington. Built in 1869, this historic building most recently served as a shelter for the homeless before closing in Septem­ ber. The property has become the latest focal point in a battle between Mayor Adrian Fenty, the DC Council, and local activists who see the shelter's closure as part of an increasing trend of selling or giving away public property. Franklin Shelter has been doomed since its inception. In 2005, former Mayor Anthony Williams signed a deal with a private developer to convert the $ 11 million property into o boutique hotel. Flomeless advocates, led by thenCouncilmember Adrian Fenty, protested the deal. After failing to find replacement housing for the residents, the deal was scrapped.

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Classifieds digs deep into stories, tracking down witnesses, victims, activists, and experts to find the truth behind the sound bytes and emotion behind the ledes.

The District Sleeps Alone Tonight Consumed

I How Much is My Written Answer Worth?

I Saving it up for God

In September 2008, the DC Council passed emergency legis­ able use for property, the city is better off having it used by a non­ lation to keep Franklin Shelter open after Mayor Fenty announced profit organization or private developer. The goal of Fenty's policy that it would be closed by October 1. The legislation required the is to "provide a neighborhood with services they need and gener­ Mayor to provide housing for at least 300 people elsewhere in ate revenue for the city that will be used to support the develop­ the city before closing the shelter. The Council gave Mayor Fenty ment priorities of the Mayor, and [to] help local small businesses ten days to comply with the legislation. Rather than provide a through job creation for neighborhood residents and residents of plan for housing the shelter's residents, Fenty slowly closed the the District in general," says Feras Sleiman, a spokesperson for shelter over thos the Mayor. Several groups have rallied against the shelter's closing, notably Empower DC. The group consists of "The government gives away public property to rich people, about 300 DC residents who vote annually on issues who then build fancy buildings, which then raises the property for group action. "Most people are unaware of the sell­ taxes, which then forces low and middle income people out of ing of public property in their neighborhood,” said Peter the city." Tucker of Empower DC. "That's how the city gets away with handing over valuable land to developers for next to nothing.” Empower DC has been vehement in its opposition to the Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. proposed legisla­ shelter's closing, holding frequent rallies, packing the chambers tion that would require the District to go through a public process of the DC Council. When Mayor Fenty refused to meet with the to determine whether public property that is proposed to be sold, group, they confronted him outside his home in the Crestwood leased, exchanged, or given away, could be used by the govern­ section of Northwest. "[This] process of kicking low and middle ment for other purposes. Specifically, it would require that the income people out of the city is being done with our tax dollars,” government, before taking any such action, provide a complete Tucker said. "The government gives away public property to rich listing of all property it owns or leases and provide information people, who then build fancy buildings, which then raises the about the government's plans for use of public facilities and com­ property taxes, which then forces low and middle income people munity development. The legislation would also require that the out of the city.” government publicize and hold hearings to receive the public's The DC Statehood Green Party has also been active in op­ input, and would allow any member of the public to file a lawsuit posing the closing of the shelter. "There are lots of ways we can seeking to prevent the government from getting rid of the prop­ use our publicly owned properties," said Chris Otten, the party's erty. candidate for mayor in 2006. "It's outrageous that Mayor Fenty Both Empower DC and the DC Statehood Green Party have would rather transfer them to his friends in the Federal City Coun­ been active in pushing for passage of the legislation. "This would cil and other well-connected and powerful real estate and devel­ make it much harder for the Mayor and the City Council to make opment interests.” hasty decisions with our public property," says Tucker. Mayor Fenty argues that if the government cannot find a suit"We proudly support Empower DC's campaign to preserve public property and the Thomas bill because it prioritizes commu­ nity needs by creating an effective community accountable review process to keep public property public," said David Schwartzman, Statehood Green candidate for DC Council. Both groups continue to push for the reopening of Franklin Shelter, and for strengthen­ ing DC's public property laws. If activists like Tucker prevail, scenes like the ones outside Franklin Shelter on closing day and in the DC Council chambers won't happen again. For now, though, the fight continues. "If we don't get together and deliver a political consequence to Fenty for closing Franklin, he'll just continue on this path of taking ev­ erything from those in need and handing it over to the super wealthy,” Tucker said. ■

Ian Valentine currently lives in a $1800 a month chic 3-bedroom condominium suite in Columbia Heights.

Winter 2008 9


Jess Kantor is fighting the economic down­ turn by signing up for four low interest credit cords, two of which are to pay off her already maxed out Visa.


The Sunny D 'Hip-Hop Stop tour visits a day comp in Detroit in summer 2008. The tour targeted children in urban areas all over the country, dazzling them with breakdancers, Sunny D-themed games (including "Sunny D Says"), and free Sunny D tays and T-shirts. They alsa donated basketballs, stacking cups, and slinkies ta the day camps as a "token of appreciation." Of course, the toys were festooned with Sunny D logos, providing a constant reminder ta the kids as to who their benefactor was.


HOW MUCH IS MY WRITTEN ANSWER WORTH? By Chris Lewis

'In another kindergarten class, there was a poster that displayed the names of several retail stores: JCPenney, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, and a few others. 'It's like working in a store,' a classroom aide explained. 'The children are learning to pretend that they're cashiers. -From The Shame of the Notion, by Jonathan Kozol.

rom age 5 to 18, a child spends seven hours a day, five days a week in school. School is the place where they first discover the wonder of the world. Where they will forge a personality independent of their parents. Where they learn the skills that will carry them through life, from reading and writing to playing fair with peers. But the schoolhouse isn't the insulated setting for development it once was. The walls are coming down; the walls that make school a haven for intellectual growth separate from the adult world. And through this gap comes what Jonathan Kozol saw in that Columbus, Ohio kindergarten class: â&#x20AC;&#x153;JCPenney, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears." As these corporations infiltrate schools, they gain more influence over what goes on inside the classroom. Rather than being benign and educationally motivated, the corporations' influence is used to expose young consumers to the respective products, producing obedient participants in the capitalist consumer economy brainwashed by brand loyalty.

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Classroom Advertising "The emphasis is on 'buy this," said Dr. Velma LaPoint, pro­ fessor in the School of Education at Howard University. She is re­ ferring to the two leading new corporate players in the education gome: Channel One and BusRodio. Channel One, launched in 1990, provides daily news pro­ grams for high school classes. The broadcasts are offered at no cost to the school, and Channel One provides a TV for each class­ room to watch its programs. The catch; each 12-minute program contains two minutes of "corporate sponsorship" content. Channel One now reaches more than 7 million American stu­ dents. Advertisers have included Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Snickers, McDonald's, Twinkles, and movies like "Rollerball" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" One study of the movies advertised on Chan­ nel One found that 59.7 percent had scenes showing characters smoking. (Exposure to smoking in movies recruits an estimated 390,000 new young smokers a year.) And while Channel One purports to bring current world events into classrooms, studies indicate that students remember more ads than Channel One news features. Gary Ruskin, af the Maryland-based consumer watchdog group Commercial Alert, states, "Channel One does nothing in schools that cannot be done better, but without the commercial advertising." Professor LaPoint worries about the prevalence of advertis­ ing. Children are a "captive audience," she says. "They can't es­ cape from exposure to the products." Channel One would seem to agree. Promotional material seeking potential advertisers brags of Channel One's access to "the undivided attention of millions of teenagers for 12 minutes a day." BusRadio operates similarly, offering ad-enhanced program­

ming for school buses to broadcast during the daily commute to and from school. BusRadio now reaches 1 million children in 11 states. Each hour of BusRadio programming has four minutes of advertising and faur minutes of public service announcements. There hos been dispute over the appropriateness af BusRadio's content. Steve Shulman, one of the company's co-founders, claims that BusRadio doesn't accept advertising far candy, soda, or vio­ lent toys, and all the music played on BusRadio is age-appropri­ ate; however, some parents have camplained that the buses play music fram albums with parental advisory warnings. BusRadia has incredible potential to reach audiences of young consumers. BusRadio claims that it "will take targeted stu­ dent marketing to the next level" and give advertisers "a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought-after teen and tween market." Businesses have faund ather ways to get their feet in the schoolhouse door. Kids make brandname identification when they buy from vending machines or school lunch counters. School ser­ vices and supplies are provided "courtesy of (insert brand) Inc." Corporations have even bought the right to name sports fields and school buildings after themselves. The ShopRite of Brooklawn gymnasium at Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn, New Jer­ sey is just one example.

Lifelong Customers Product placement in schools has another problematic effect, according to LaPoint. The school setting "offers a point of author­ ity and legitimacy,” she said. "One could assume from a child's perspective that a given product is okay because the school said so." And this added authority can have worrisome consequences, since junk food and military recruiting are both prominently pro­ moted on Channel One. The temptatian far companies to dip their hand inta the schaals is strategically smart; children have money, and they can


influence the spending habits of their parents. Additionally, com­ panies can get a child 'to identify with a certain product early on," according to Russell Jackson, a retired superintendent. 'If you can convince them at a young age that Coke is better than Pepsi, they are going to be hooked on Coca-Cola," he said. Even greater than the allure of immediate revenue, there is the oppor­ tunity for companies to create a lifelong customer. John R. Aim, president of Coca-Cola Enterprises, agrees. "The school system is where you build brand loyalty."

Whose Reward?

In that same ad-saturated Columbus school, Kozol encoun­ tered one fourth-grade class where each student had the ques­ tion, 'How Much Is My Written Answer Worth?" prodding at them from their desk. Children would use their 'earnings chart' to determine what they earned for displaying satisfactory writing skills. "There was alsa a Classroom Bank in which the children’s earnings were accrued," writes Kozol. 'A wall display beneath the heading of the Classroom Bank presented an enticing sample of real currency—one-dollar bills, five-dollar bills, ten-dollar bills—in "Not Our Goal" order to make clear the nexus between cash rewards and writing Lackheed Martin, the largest arms manufacturer in the world, proper sentences." recently dropped $146,000 for a hand in designing a class in The rewards aren’t limited to just pretend cash. In 1985, Pizza aerospace engineering that will be taught in thousands of class­ Hut founded its "Book It!" program, which offered elementary rooms. How did they do it? Project Lead the Way (PLW), a New students free pizza as a reward for reading a certain number of York-based non-profit that develops engineering classes which books outside of school. McDonalds has implemented similar pro­ are used in 2,000 schools. The program, which offers courses grams for school attendance. Incentivization raises several prob­ in engineering, digital electronics, civil engineering and robotics, lems. Notably, young children are being taught that reading—a was started in 1998 by Richard Liebich, CEO of a New York tool skill that should be intrinsically rewarding—is merely a means to manufacturing company. a material end. "Can a material reward be used as a motivatar A March 2008 Wall Street Journal article detailed what is for learning?" LaPoint asks. "Why do we need external rewards to emerging as a disturbing conflict of interest between educa­ motivate young people to learn?" By placing a material value on tion and the private marketplace. Though PLW is technically a learning to read or attending class, we reduce its value to that of non-profit, corporations can exert influence over it. The National the prize. A skill as essential as learning to read is no longer worth Fluid Power Association paid PLW $100,000 "to hire fluid-power any more than the pizza given as its reward. experts to ensure that concepts on hydraulics and pneumatics This emphasis on contrived rewards, along with the welcome would be incorporated into the courses." Rolls-Royce looked at pervasiveness af corporations in schools, creates a student who the Project's aerospace course, and determined that there wasn’t values material over intellect and an idle young capitalist who enough material on propulsion. A Rolls-Royce employee helped mechanically follows the commands of advertising propaganda. redesign the course, and now it includes a PowerPoint presenta­ tion on a gas turbine engine called "by kind permission of Rolls The National Factory Royce." Alex Molnar, an education-policy professor at Arizona All these emerging trends—advertising in schools, corporate State University, told the Journal, "When you have a corporation control of school content, incentive-based learning—are not only or any special interest offering an incentive, you are distorting problems in themselves. They signify a fundamental change in the the educational purpose of the schools." way we view education. Kozol wrote that writing correct sentences Dan Leips, Education Analyst at the Heritage Foundation, is is no longer self-rewarding, but now undertaken for a cash prize. more accepting. 'We’re dependent on foundations and charities Education as a societal institution has changed in the same way. that get involved in education," he says. "Companies are always The school’s sanctity has collapsed, and school has now become making charitable donations to foundations. If we were to stop something to be used for profit. that, it would be a big revenue drain on our schools." In 1990, the Wall Street Journal reported on a new Chicago Lockheed’s involvement isn’t merely altruistic, according to school run and financed by 60 city corporations. The leaders of the Journal. A presentation to Lockheed executives states, 'In­ the school—a board made up of educators, community members, creasing general interest in math and science for all students [is] and corporate executives—ominously articulated the shift occur­ not our goal." The presentation says the objective is to create a ring within our nation’s schools. At a breakfast for the school’s new generation of Lockheed employees. CEO financers. Principal Elaine C. Mosley proclaimed, "Tm in the For school administrators, the appeal of inviting corpora­ business of developing minds to meet o market demand." In re­ tions to provide school services seems well intentioned; they can sponse, the school’s executive director—Walter L. Kraus of Baxter provide needed services, particularly in low-income areas where International Inc.—chimed, 'If you were manufacturing Buicks, schools are strapped for cash. But Lockheed Martin’s admission you would have the same objectives." ■ of self-interest expresses the inevitable role that for-profit enti­ ties play in education; the first priority is making money. LaPoint questions the possibility of "corporate involvement without the bottom-line agenda." And when this 'bottom-line agenda" be­ Chris Lewis bought this article off of “' comes prevalent in academia, do schools cease developing sin­ GradeSaver.com; he payed with EagleBuck$. * gle-minded thinkers and begin manufacturing nothing more than consumers and economic producers?

Winter 2008 15


n a Thursday night at Tri-Cities Baptist Church, the crowd stewardship coordinator for Park Street Church, a nondenominais following along to a Dave Ramsey DVD. The group in tional Christian church in Boston, says this fits with the values of the basement classroom laughs along with the taped audience, American culture. "In our current society, we use money for everything," said By­ shouting answers and raising their hands to the speaker on screen. David Baughn stands in the back with a remote control, a ler, who started using a 10-week Crown curriculum at his church in 2001. "What better way to help people live more godly lives faithful herald of Ramsey's message of financial stewardship. The crowd is gathered at the Gray, Tenn., church for a free than to let their finances reflect their commitment to their faith?" One way to live by the creator's word is to give more, accord­ introduction to Ramsey's Financial Peace University, a 13-week biblically based fiscal responsibility class using pre-taped lectures ing to Baughn. After campleting the Crown curriculum several and small group discussions. Baughn, who brought the workshop years ago, Baughn said that he better understood the concept to Tri-Cities Baptist in August, is typical of a Financial Peace coor­ of tithing—the fixed contribution many Christians make to their dinator—a graduate of the program himself, he wants to spread churches. He started giving more to his church as a result of the the ward to other Christians spiraling into debt. program. "It's a personal thing for us because we know that the Lord wants us to be good stewards of what he's provided," Baughn said. "We saw through this class a "What better way to help people live more godly lives than light at the end of a dark tunnel, and we wanted to to let their finances reflect their commitment to their faith?" share what we saw and what we have discovered with others in our church. There are a lot of Christians that are going through the same problems we have." "They're burdened down with their debts, and they can't do Consumer debt isn't just a problem for Christians. The Ameri­ can Association of Retired Persons reported in September that what the Lord wants them to do financially. They can't be the the average American household was buried under $117, 952 of givers God wants them to be," Baughn said. "I think the churches debt. $8,565 of that is credit card debt—an average 15 percent have become more aware of this, and they're trying to find ways higher than it was in 2000. Good Magazine said in October that to help people get out from under that." 43 percent of American households spend more than they earn But more than just the imagery is being changed in these fi­ annually, and 44 percent of American employees said they lived nancial seminars. The programs pack tuition costs, covering the companion DVDs, workbooks and inspirational self-help books "paycheck to paycheck" in 2007—up from 37 percent in 2006. For the Christians included in the national average, the Bible from the program founders. The Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Uni­ is becoming a relevant source of financial advice. Across the coun­ versity lifetime membership, which includes a full-color workbook, try, churches are offering classes in managing personal finances. a 13 CD set of the lecture audio, a leather-bound fiscal journal Ramsey's seminars have been hosted 12,000 times this year in and a free copy of Ramsey's book, "Total Money Makeover," goes American churches. Crown Financial Ministries, another fiscal for $149 (down from a suggested retail price of $199!). Crown's responsibility curriculum rooted in biblical teachings, claims to advanced curriculum package, for the Money Map Coaching have reached 50 million people worldwide with the idea of finan­ Training course, sets the faithful back $125. The group in the basement of Tri-Cities Baptist listen to Dave cial stewardship. The programs preach that people need to manage their fi­ Ramsey's personal testimony of poor money management—a real nances as they would another person's resources, in a way that estate portfolio of $4 million by 26, only to lose it all to creditors honors the owner. Central to this understanding is the notion of by 30. For Baughn, this is what makes Ramsey and his message of financial stewardship—that everything a person owns has been financial stewardship so powerful. given to them by a loving God. “Dave's been there with us. It speaks volumes when you've Candy Gunther Brown, associate professor at Indiana Univer­ been there, done that, got the t-shirt," said Baughn, quoting a sity's Department of Religious Studies, doesn't see anything new Ramsey aphorism. "There's a difference between that and a finan­ in the idea of financial stewardship. cial advisor, who has never had that kind of struggle." ■ "It's a different context, that now they are introducing these ideas in seminars," Gunther Brown said. "But churches have been involved in people's financial lives, preaching particular callings to work and to work diligently." While the message might not have changed, the presentation has. Promotional materials for Financial Peace University show h Jeff Lambert recently had a check bounced from how the program will help participants get the car they want Si the Bank of God. without getting mired in debt. Crown Financial Ministries has a lesson about saving for retirement. Steven Byler, the financial

O

Winter 2008 17


^CASUAL

encounters!

Half of all workers would join a union if they could. But as director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Ameri­ can Worker Project David Madland writes, 'Existing laws make joining a union a Herculean task that few are able to undertake." Indeed, just 8 percent of workers in private industry are union members today, down from just over 30 percent after World War II. The decline in union membership paralleled with a decline in real wages, retirement benefits, and quality of health care. To ensure that workers who wish to organize are able to do so, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in March 2007 with bipartisan support. In the Senate, however, a group of 48 conservatives successfully blocked the measure with a filibus­ ter threat three months later. As the next Congress approaches, conservatives have renewed their campaign against the EFCA. Across the nation, right-wing pundits and politicians are using hyperbolic language to mischaracterize the legislation and paint the EFCA's supporters as anti-worker and anti-business. THE TRUTH ABOUT EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE: Despite THE UNION DIFFERENCE: The importance of unions to the conservatives' claims to the contrary, the EFCA preserves the American worker cannot be understated. Union workers earn 30 secret ballot election process established by the National Labor percent higher wages than nonunion workers. For women and Relations Board. The law simply guarantees that workers also people of color, union membership improves wages even more. As have the option to form a union through a "card-check" system union membership has declined, so too have real wages. Mean­ in which a union would be recognized if a majority of workers while, top business executives earned '344 times the salary of the signed a petition testifying to their desire to organize. Under cur­ average American worker in 2007." As Madland explained in the rent law, workers can only form a union via the card-check system Washington Post, income inequality "is now at the level it was in if their employer agrees to allow it. Otherwise, the employer can the 1920s, when unionization rates were also below 10 percent." insist on a union secret ballot election. Unfortunately, as Mad­ Furthermore, when health care costs continue to rise, "workers land notes, 'Employers legally can force workers to attend anti­ in unions...are 63 percent more likely to have employer-provided union meetings, including 'one-on-one conversations' with super­ health insurance" than nonunion workers. Union workers' health visors" and "workers often are pressured by employers to reveal insurance coverage is "far more comprehensive than that of their private preferences for the union." "This takes the 'secret' nonunion workers" and "[ujnion workers pay 18 percent less in out of the 'secret ballot,'" Madland writes. Even more disturbing health care deductibles and a smaller share of costs for family is that in "25 percent of organizing campaigns, private-sector em­ coverage." Finally, when union workers retire, they are more likely ployers illegally fire workers because they want to form a union" to have "a guaranteed, defined benefit pension." 72 percent of and "even after workers successfully form a union, in one-third of union workers have such retirement benefits, "compared to only the instances, employers do not negotiate a contract." The EFCA 15% of nonunion workers." "Throughout our history, when unions would strengthen penalties for such labor law violations and pre­ are strong, wages go up, health care coverage improves and pen­ vent employers from delaying first-contract negotiations. While sions are strengthened," notes Change to Win. ■ conservatives suggest that the EFCA card-check system is "antibusiness," 'in a recent survey of employers who had used major­ ^Sh^ir,;Arftan?Jtf*ferkel; Satyam Khanna, ity sign-up agreements, a majority reported that the agreements : G^brtey, Benjamin Arrhbruster, Ali Frick, and resulted in improved relations with the union, enabling manage­ -Ryan Powers (CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS) ment to achieve other bargaining or business goals."

18 AWOL

http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200709/r 186287_694270.jpg

A CONSERVATIVE ASSAULT ON THE WORKFORCE


Casual Encounters is a place for innovation, new cre­ ations, and the arts. Whether comical, satirical, play­ ful, or weird. Casual Encounters delivers a smorgasbord of expressive pieces that are quirky yet thematic.

In a shocking new study released by the US Bureau of Trans­ portation Statistics, upwards of 300 million Americans still rely on walking as a secondary, tertiary or quaternary method of trans­ portation. It’s estimated a significant percent of this population may walk exclusively, lacking the monetary or political power to relay such energy expenditure to another method of transport. Bureau officials were shocked by the results of the re­ cent survey, which was conducted over the last 35 years. Trans­ portation spokesman Roy Christenson lamented the findings. "When you consider the many, many, many ways of avoiding physical activity, it really shocks me that such a high number of Americans are simply choosing to depend on such an energyintensive and antiquated method," Christenson said. “It's ludi­ crous." Bureau statisticians engaged in a lengthy round-table discus­ sion about ways to promote more efficient transportation among these clearly under-served populations. Among the most promi­ nent ideas were moving sidewalks, segways, and shuttles dedi­ cated to serving routes of a quarter mile or less. Fortunately, some astute Americans are taking notice. In a recent progressive stride by the Department of Public Safely at American University, the act of walking is being systematically eliminated by the acquisition of T3 Scooters, also known as hu­

■ A Conservative Assault on the Workforce ■ Public Safety Scooters ■ Thrift Stores

'We managed to get rid of running years ago - that was easy," an officer with the department said. “You just chose not to run. But walking, man, there wasn't no way around that for a long time. Shit." Until now, that is. A modest $34, 000 has allowed the purchase of three T3 Scooters, which are distinctly different from the inferior Segway Scooters, by the university. T3s are manufac­ tured by the elite company, T3 Motion, and are only available to law enforcement officials. Beyond merely looking sharp, they maintain an impressive battery life of up to eight hours. This al­ lows for longer patrols, extensive idling and circuitous donuts in low traffic parking lots in the pre-dawn hours. 'It's really comforting knowing I won't get stranded by a dead battery," said one officer. “Can you imagine being at the 7-11 on Wisconsin and your T3 just stops working? That's worth the $30,000 right there - that peace of mind." ■

r Suzanne Monsivais is proposing a measure to Student Council that would require all students to drive motor-powered scooters on campus in an effort to curb class tardiness and maximize time efficiency.

man transporters. Winter 2008 19


To commemorate our "Sold" issue and ta help you combat ad­ vertising saturation and the culture of consumerism, we've put together a listing of some of the best thrift, second hand, and consignment stores in the DC metro area. It's not an exhaustive list, but a nice start. Unique Thrift 12211 Veirs Mill Rd Silver Spring, MD 20906 Metro: Red Line. Silver Spring Stop. Hours: Mon-Sat. 10am-8pm Sun. 10am-6pm Polly Sue's Vintage Shop 6915 Laurel Ave. Takoma Park, MD 20912 Metro: Red Line. Takoma Stop. Hours: Mon-Fri. 11am-7pm Sat. 10am-6pm Sun 10am-5pm The Consignment Shop 2622 PSt NW Washington, DC 20007 Metro: Red Line. Dupont Circle Stop. Hours: Mon-Sat. 11am-5pm Easy Picken's Thrift Store 1826 Benning Rd NE Washington, DC 20002 Metro: Blue Line. Stadium-Armory Stop. Hours: N/A Flea Market Store 1626 Lincoln Rd NE Washington, DC 20002 Metro: Green Line. Mt. Vernon Square Stop. Hours: Mon-Sat. 9:30am-5pm Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop 6101 Georgia Ave NW Washington, DC 20011 Metro: Red Line. Silver Spring Stop. Hours: Mon-Sat. 9am-9pm Sun. 11am-7pm Mustard Seed 7349 Wisconsin Ave Bethesda, MD 20814 Metro: Red Line. Bethesda Stop. Hours: Mon-Sat. 11am-7pm Sun. 12am-6pm Smash! 2314 18th ST NW2nd Floor Washington, DC 20009 Metro: Woodley Park/Adams Morgan Hours: Mon-Thur: 12:00pm - 9:00pm Fri: 12:00pm -10:00pm Sat: 11:00am - 10:00pm Sun: 12:00pm - 7:00pm Compiled by Elizabeth Tseng And Jessica Taich.


“THE NEW FACE OF THE CAMPUS LEFT... CAMPUS PROGRESS HAS PROVIDED PROGRESSIVE STUDENTS WITH TOOLS THEY'VE NEVER HAD BEFORE.” - THE NATION

“A SOCIALIST SMEAR GROUR” - YOUNG AMERICA’S FOUNDATION

FIND OUT WHAT THE FUSS IS ABOUT.

{CAMPUS*PROORESS} ACTIVISM, JOURNALISM, EVENTS

BUILDING A MOVEMENT, RIGHT NOW.

WWW.CAMPUSPROGRESS.ORG


Profile for AWOL Magazine

AWOL - issue 2  

Issue 2 of AWOL. Spring 2008

AWOL - issue 2  

Issue 2 of AWOL. Spring 2008

Profile for awol
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