Archive: Sep 2008

Metropolitan State is pleased to welcome Tom Hayden for two days of events across the Twin Cities.

“Tom Hayden changed America,” the national correspondent of the Atlantic, Nicholas Lemann, has written. He was the “single greatest figure of the 1960s student movement,” according to the New York Times. Tom Hayden is an American social and political activist and politician, most famous for his involvement in the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s. Hayden’s continued influence in American culture spans fifty years. He was a famed sixties radical, then a long term state senator, an acclaimed author and teacher at many universities.  Today he is passionate opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the polluting quest for oil, and sweatshop conditions across the planet.  He not only writes about these subjects, but works toward their realization as a close adviser to many politicians, peace and human rights groups.

Movement Building and the Role of Student Activism:  A Student Conversation
Noon – 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Metropolitan State University Minneapolis Campus,
Helland Student Center Lounge

Debating Democracy: What’s at Stake in the 2008 Elections?
Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008
7-8:00 p.m. Discussion led by Tom Hayden
8:00-9:30p.m. Watch the Debate on the Big Screen!
Metropolitan State University, Library and Learning Center, Ecolab Rm 302

Peace Movements:  Past Lessons, Future Prospects
7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Metropolitan State University Founders Auditorium

Light Refreshments provided.

Sponsored by Metropolitan State Students for Social Change, the Student Senate, and The American Democracy Project, for more information about this event, please call 651-793-1285.

This post first appeared on the opinion page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday, September 5, 2008.

If John Stuart Mill were alive, he might well be at the Republican National Convention this week, providing the British with pithy commentary about American politics. What the author of On Liberty would have found most impressive about his visit is the vibrant marketplace of ideas that is playing out in our arenas, parks and streets.

Liberty is the watchword of the week. It is not just Republicans and Democrats who are exercising their freedoms of speech, association and assembly. The Libertarian, Green and Independence parties are passionately promoting their agendas. Supporters of Ron Paul and Ralph Nader are also busy hawking their heroes.

Perhaps most noteworthy, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens have gathered throughout the Twin Cities to peacefully protest the RNC. Oh, and if you hadn’t noticed, there are a few hundred anarchists rioting in the streets.

When it comes to our constitutional liberties, these political parties and activists have very different ideologies and agendas. Nevertheless, there is one liberty that no political group really wants its members taking too seriously — intellectual liberty.

The sociologist Joel Charon argues that liberty of thought is a precondition for those “action” liberties like speech, association and assembly:

To act without thinking is to act without freedom. To act with thinking that is controlled by others is to act without freedom. Without freedom to think, freedom to act is an empty freedom.

Intellectual liberty is not free. On the contrary, freedom of thought is like a sown seed, requiring a citizen to nurture it.

Why is free thinking such a rare commodity? Conservatives and libertarians will assert that the enemy of intellectual liberty is government coercion. Liberals and leftists counter by arguing the real threat to free thought is corporate media manipulation.

I concede that each of these claims has an element of truth. I contend, however, that the most significant obstacle to independent thought is neither governments nor corporations.

No, the danger is closer to home. The Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing disconcertingly suggests that our friends can also be the foes of our free thought:

The hardest thing in the world is to stand out against one’s group, a group of one’s peers. Many agree that among our most shameful memories is this, how often we said black was white because other people were saying it.

A wide variety of experimental studies, ranging from simple sensory perception to judgments about politics and morality, demonstrate that the peer pressure of group membership dramatically alters a person’s private opinions.

When individuals know their conformity or deviance will become public knowledge, they are more likely to conform. In other words, people are prone to suppress contrary perceptions and opinions when they must take a public stance in the presence of fellow group members.

After reviewing this extensive literature, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein concludes that “many people, of all political stripes, go along with political orthodoxies despite their private reservations.”

Why do we silence ourselves? Sunstein suggests several reasons.

·We do not want to risk the wrath of friends and allies.

·We fear that our dissent will weaken the reputation of the group.

·We blindly trust that our group members are right.

Sunstein asserts that groups unified by bonds of affection and solidarity can make serious errors in judgment. What does he see as a solution?

The clear implication is that if a group is embarking on an unfortunate course of action, a single dissenter might be able to turn it around, by energizing ambivalent group members who would otherwise follow the crowd.

As an example he points to “Twelve Angry Men,” a movie about 11 jurors who are hell bent on convicting an innocent man. A single dissenting juror, played by Henry Fonda, persuades his fellow members of their erroneous conclusion.

In closing, I invite you to join an ancient party. This party requires no registration, no dues and no meetings. It does not even ask you to relinquish your other party affiliations. In fact, it encourages dual allegiances.

I’m talking about the party of free thinkers. “Such people, such individuals,” writes Lessing, “will be a most productive yeast and ferment, and lucky the society who has plenty of them.”

The twenty-first century is off to one hell of a start: wars and rumors of war, famines and plagues, terrorism and genocide, hurricanes and earthquakes. For “citizens” of the empire, these horrific events are usually little more than annoying background music, as ignorable as Muzak. However, for the “barbarians” huddled outside the empire’s “Green Zone,” the sounds of death are a ubiquitous funeral dirge.

The people who administer an empire need certain very precise capacities. They need to be adept technocrats. They need the kind of training that will allow them to take up an abstract and unfelt relation to the world and its peoples—a cool relation, as it were. Otherwise, they won’t be able to squeeze forth the world’s wealth without suffering debilitating pains of conscience. And the denizen of the empire needs to be able to consume the kinds of pleasures that augment his feeling of rightful ownership. These pleasures must be self-inflating and not challenging; they need to confirm the current empowered state of the self and not challenge it. The easy pleasures of this nascent American empire, akin to the pleasures to be had in first-century Rome, reaffirm the right to mastery—and, correspondingly, the existence of a world teeming with potential vassals and exploitable wealth.

Why Read? Mark Edmundson                          

While most Americans are loath to admit it, we are denizens of a global empire. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile our standard of living with the disconcerting reality that an empire for the few requires the subjugation of the many. Consequently, we continue to “consume the kinds of pleasures” our empire offers as a way of warding off the “debilitating pains of conscience.”

Regrettably, too many novels published today are sources of such easy pleasures; we read them for escape. By contrast, these three prize-winning novels confront rather than comfort, each provoking our moral sensibilities with disturbing images of human motivation and behavior. Before reading these reviews, take a look at Milan Kundera on the“spirit of the novel.”

Totalitarian Truth excludes relativity, doubt, questioning; it can never accommodate what I would call the spirit of the novel. . . . The novel’s spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: “Things are not as simple as you think.” That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off.

The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera

The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney

A winner of the 2006 British Costa Award, this tale has elements of both a murder mystery and an historical novel. Written by a Scot who has never set foot in Canada, the novel takes place in 1867 in the wilderness region of Hudson’s Bay. The novel opens in the tiny settlement of Dover River, a community of Scottish settlers who are dependent on fur trapping.

The plot is set in motion with the murder and scalping of an old trapper and the disappearance of his 17-year-old friend and lover, Francis Ross. Another suspect is a mixed blood trapper named William Parker. The authorities arrest him but he soon escapes.

Francis’s mother, sets off with Parker to track her son who, they soon discover, is tracking someone himself. Parker and Mrs. Ross gradually develop a gnarled bond, breed of physical necessity and emotional need. Mrs. Ross narrates most of the novel, providing a rich interior monologue of her conflicts.

A number of subplots, sometimes confusingly overlapping, involve conflicts between trading companies, between members of a puritanical Norwegian settlement, and between settlers and the native people caught up in this embryonic European empire.

Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson

In 2007, this Norwegian novel won both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and Britain’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. This is the story of Trond Sander, a 67-year old grieving widower who retires to a desolate cabin in eastern Norway.

His only neighbor turns out to be the brother of Jon, his childhood friend. This evokes memories of his fifteenth summer, particularly of a single afternoon when he and Jon set out an adventure of stealing horses. It was also the last season he spent with a cherished father. The novel alternates between his current solitary musings and his reminiscences of his father’s mysterious wartime activities during that memorable summer.

The novel’s landscape evokes the timeless grandeur and power of pine forests. Petterson also masterfully moves back and forth between the consciousnesses of an adventuresome young boy and a contemplative old man. It is, most of all, a tale of loss and recollection, of reflection and renewal.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this is not a novel for those who fear bad dreams. I generally only read fiction for 30-60 minutes before falling asleep at night. While I slowly progressed through this novel, I began having nightmares every couple of nights.

The apocalypse has occurred, whether it is natural or man-made we never discover: “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.” It is a burnt-over landscape, devoid of animals, planets, and the sun. A nameless man and his son are trudging along the remnants of a freeway, heading for the coast. We learn that the boy’s mother could finally take no more—she committed suicide.

Snows falls gray and even daylight is little more than a shadowy haze. It is freezing cold and they are starving; every day is a desperate search for food and shelter. Even in these dark times, the father has constructed a narrative. He and his son are the “good guys” Among the few remaining survivors are the “bad guys”—roving bands of cannibals.

Even at the end of the world, McCarthy offers us a secular meditation on love, 1 Corinthians 13 after the death of God. In an unsentimental and stark language, McCarthy’s father and son reveal what it means to be human in a universe practically devoid of humanity.

So now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

This is an eyewitness report from the streets of the Republican National Convention in downtown St. Paul. Jennifer Pennington is exemplary of a new generation of brilliant young activists who are changing the direction of this nation. She was an organizer of the highly successful Liberty Parade that took place in Loring Park on August 31. Jennifer was named the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Student for 2008. She is a social science honors graduate and was the commencement speaker last spring at Metropolitan State University.

Wow.  I’ve had quite a day.  I had taken the day off to recover from the Liberty Parade and return stuff like the walkie talkies we had rented.  I decided to bring some treats to the ACLU office because I knew they were having a very busy week.  I went to the office with cupcakes and blueberry muffins.  They told me they were holding a press conference at 2:30pm with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, and they asked if I’d come back from that.  Would I come back?  Amy is only one of my personal heroes.

I rushed to Burnsville to return the Walkie Talkies, and I got back to the ACLU office.  I met Nicole Salazar and Shareef, the two producers that were arrested and charged with felonies.  Amy had also been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.  We got them set up in the press conference.  Chuck Samuelson, the Executive Director of the ACLU of MN introduced everyone.  Geneva from the National Lawyers Guild was also there.

One reporter from Fox News was a total asshole to Amy.  He kept questioning her like she did something wrong.  She responded beautifully quoting Thomas Jefferson when he said if he had to choose between government and a free press, he’d choose a free press.  You can listen to what happened to Amy, Nicole, and Shareef at

Btw, in yesterday’s March on the RNC, there were 17 people arrested.  The 200+ other arrests happened AFTER the March on the RNC had finished and occurred between 4pm-midnight.  Over 100 people were charged with a felony.  This means a lot of different things, but it also means they can be held for a longer period of time.  If you want to help, you should donate to the ACLU of MN (  I’d like to note that the mainstream press makes it sound like these arrests all happened during the March on the RNC.  That was not the case.

Afterwards, we were all talking in the hallway.  Amy mentioned that they needed to call a cab, and I offered to give them a ride.  There were five of them, and only four fit in my car.  So one guy agreed to wait behind and I’d come back for him.  Btw, they had all tried to come and cover Liberty Parade but couldn’t make it.  I was pretty thrilled that they had heard of us!

So I drove Amy, Nicole, Shareef, and one of the camera men to where their office was in St. Paul.  Downtown St. Paul was weird.  Streets were blockaded everywhere and it was hard to get through.  There were a lot of detours.  I finally got them to their destination which was near Mears Park.  The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign was holding a rally there with a march scheduled for later.  I was supposed to meet my old ACLU co-workers there to hand out fliers on their rights.  There were riot police hiding behind every corner, and the Democracy Now! crew took note of it.

I dropped off three of them, and then I brought Amy as close to Excel as I could get her.  We talked in the car.  She was very tired. Her arrest the day before had really drained her.  They had taken her sweater, and today was pretty chilly.  The secret service had also ripped the press credentials from her neck.  These were for Monday so she still had press credentials for the rest of the days.  Her sweaters and credentials weren’t returned.

After I dropped her off, I went back and picked up the 5th member.  I brought him into downtown, dropped him off, and then I found a parking spot near Mears Park.  The place was packed.  I handed out fliers and met up with two of my old co-workers from the ACLU to be a legal observer.  One guy was arrested, but we couldn’t see what had happened.  A huge crowd surrounded about 5 police officers on horseback.  I couldn’t see the guy they had arrested.  But then one participant who was standing on a van had a seizure and fell off the van.  That created quite a bit of chaos.  A human chain formed around him.  None of the police (who are EMTs) offered to help.  Someone called an ambulance and some medics came in.

Then the march started.  We walked alongside observing and taking video.  The march started in Mears Park and went by the Union Mission and up to the Capitol.  There were thick lines of riot police at every corner.  It was disturbing to see so many riot police for a legal, permitted march.

Ripple Effect was at the Capitol and scheduled to end at 7pm.  Apparently Rage Against the Machine had turned up unannounced.  I was by their suburbans.  The police told them they couldn’t play because they weren’t scheduled to play and weren’t on the permit?  Suddenly the crowd from Ripple Effect rushed towards the suburbans.  The suburbans started moving through the march which was now merging with people from Ripple Effect.  It doubled in size, making the crowd 5,000 strong easily.

From the Capitol, the march started moving to Excel Energy Center.  People were taking pictures and videos constantly.  Riot police lined the way.  We passed the place where the Daily Show was playing.  We stopped to get a better look of the crowd at a place where there were tons of riot police.  I would have taken more pictures of the riot police (and the National Guard), but I was pretty intimidated by them.

We then continued on to Excel.  At Excel, the march stopped and organizers with bullhorns at the front asked everyone to make a pledge to peacefully storm Excel.  They took off but were blocked by high wire barricades.  There were riot police behind all the barricades.  After 20 minutes, the crowd began to disperse.  We decided to walk back to our cars.  But we couldn’t.

There were riot police lining the streets for 20 blocks, creating a sort of maze we all had to walk through.  It was ridiculous.  It was seriously a police state.  There is no other way to describe it.  When I passed Mickey’s Diner, there were lines of riot police and two cops stood on top of a car with their guns drawn.  At this point, the crowd was still peaceful.  There were reports of a couple people getting pepper sprayed, but we didn’t see it.  From what we witnessed, the crowd was peaceful.

One other thing – throughout the march, I witnessed some protesters identifying some people as undercover cops.  This happened several times.

I’d like to add that in 2003, I marched with 50,000 people in Los Angeles, and the only police presence was the occasional cop on a corner directing us where to go.

On a side note, apparently the Missile Dick Chicks got picked up in Minneapolis last night.  They were trying to perform, and it was by a RNC event.  The police detained them, physically removed them, did not arrest them, but did drop them off outside of Minneapolis and told them not to come back!!!!

I have many pictures and videos, but I don’t know if I’ll load them all up tonight or not.  Stay posted.