Protest Lessons from the Band Pussy Riot

[Editor’s note: While we realize that Pussy Riot is all-around controversial, we’re also curious about the band’s ideology and protest methods.  Please leave a comment after reading and get the discussion going.]

Last month Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, embarked on a hunger strike that lasted 11 days before, remarkably, her demands were met.

Alyokhina is ten months into a two-year prison sentence for “breach of public order motivated by religious hatred.” In reality, the breach was a brief performance in a Moscow cathedral of the song “Punk Prayer- Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Out.”

Religious hatred or political dissent: take your pick.

The hunger strike of Alyokhina began when she alleged that prison officials were attempting to turn the other inmates against her by cracking down on security in advance of her parole hearing. She claimed inmates were denied permission to enter workplaces without escort, whereas before they had been allowed to enter freely. This requirement left inmates locked into their workplaces for hours at a time. Alyokhina was moved to a prison hospital, but ended her hunger strike when officials were able to show her that the security restrictions had been removed and returned to normal.

Pussy Riot was only formed in August 2011, but has had a significant impact on various social justice movements globally. Their manifesto claims: “We are open-source-extremists, the feminist virus infecting your thoughts.” And this idea of “open-source” movements is becoming the modern approach. There was mutual influence between Pussy Riot and Occupy Wall Street in New York, and similarities can be seen between other recent movements, like the Arab Spring. Social media is becoming the platform for protest, and youth are mobilizing it.

PRiot

While it is always hard to gauge the impact that youth movements can have, it is undeniable that the actions of Pussy Riot, and notably their arrest and subsequent trial, have called attention to the Russia of Vladimir Putin. And since their trial, a glut of new legislation has been passed, clamping down on multiple forms of protest and criticism of the government. These laws are informally known as the Pussy Riot laws, and make illegal the discussion of Pussy Riot protests, distribution of footage of them, and covering one’s face in public, in emulation of the balaclavas worn by band members.

The irony though of clamping down on social protest is that, with modern media, the act of repression only serves to send the message out all the louder. And while perhaps in Russia the group is being somewhat censored, internationally their protest is sparking and leading to a much wider movement.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

World Refugee Day

“The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable”

Thursday, June 20, was World Refugee Day, a day to raise awareness for the increasing number of refugees worldwide. As David pointed out before, it’s a strange day to try and “celebrate.” Unlike what we have grown accustomed to with holidays, there are no presents, no turkey, no days off, no Google doodle. Instead, the observation of World Refugee Day is meant to draw attention to the world’s millions of refugees, a situation that is only getting worse.

The number of refugees is the highest it’s been since 1994. Included in the newly released UNHCR global trends report for 2012 are some startling numbers:

  • 3,000: average number of people, per day, who became refugees
  • 28,800,000: number of people displaced by armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations
  • 45,200,000: number of people worldwide considered as forcibly displaced

refugee

On World Refugee Day, the focus on Syria was prominent, as the country’s civil war has contributed significantly to the rise in new refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres made Syria the central issue in his statement. Coverage of Syria most often revolves around the movements of rebel and government forces, the consequences of the conflict on the world stage.

In contrast, World Refugee Day aims to, if only for the span of twenty-four hours, move away from the debates on political implications. It, instead, recognizes the people displaced from their homes, persecuted, or forced to seek asylum in foreign countries. We, thus, “celebrate” World Refugee Day by remembering the people most affected by these global conflicts.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Food Aid, Amended?

On June 20th, an amendment designed to reform US food aid was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.

The amendment would have removed certain restrictions that require food destined for global aid be bought from US farmers and transported on US carriers. The stipulations were originally in place to benefit American farmers and corporations, but today are in direct conflict with the ultimate goal of food aid. By requiring food to be bought in the US and shipped by US carriers, aid costs are increased by up to a third, and delayed by as many as 14 weeks. Three months in a time of drought or famine is beyond significant, and “better late than never” is hardly applicable.

A Haitian woman carries a bag of rice donated by USAid

By easing restrictions on purchasing, USAID would be allowed to instead procure food from regions more local to the crisis area. This food could be purchased at better rates, and also result in shipping costs drastically reduced from those required to transport from the United States around the globe. Further, the current model of importing the entirety of aid has had drastic consequences for local markets. Following the earthquake in Haiti, many local rice farmers were put out of business when the market was flooded by cheap American rice imported to help in the time of crisis. This short-term fix, with long-term consequences for agriculture in the region, is not a point to be taken lightly. And yet the current model perpetuates this situation, in various iterations around the globe.

Ultimately what’s at stake for Americans, and what makes this a debate at all, is the effect this would have on US agriculture. However, food aid accounts for less than one percent of food exports from the US. The loss of a portion of this would have only minimal effect on US agricultural income.

Global relief provided by the United States is an important endeavor, but the photo ops provided by bags of grain stamped with US flags are becoming less and less relevant. Should we be so concerned about being recognized for the charitable work we do and the benefits as they relate to us? Or ultimately, should we be more concerned about the effect that charitable work has?

 

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

A Homeless Bill of Rights: Necessary or Not?

Last year, Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a Homeless Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. Although homeless individuals receive some protection under federal law, such as the right to emergency medical care, there are currently no state laws which prohibit discrimination against the homeless.

With Connecticut legislature following suit, the idea behind the bill appears to have taken hold. However, opponents of the bill claim that the rights mentioned are already upheld in other parts of the law. Is it really necessary to reestablish similar rights specifically pertaining to the homeless?

Contrary to common belief, homelessness is not usually a permanent condition. Many people experience homelessness for a certain period of time as a result of the increase in unemployment or decline in public assistance. However, these people often report discrimination and harassment on the direct basis of their homelessness.

Living in Baltimore, I often heard disparaging remarks about “bums on the street” and their “laziness” that keeps them from jobs. One homeless man was, quite un-affectionately, deemed “crazy Mike” by students. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Homeless people are often reduced to stereotypes defined by their homelessness.

In reality, once homeless, it is increasingly difficult to secure a job and other basic needs. Imagine applying for positions without the benefit of a computer or attending an interview without the appropriate attire.

Regardless of whether or not it can be effectively enforced, the Homeless Bill of Rights does well to draw attention to the prejudice that often accompanies being homeless. The bill reminds us that these people are still part of our community and should accordingly be afforded equal treatment under protection of the law.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

The Hole in Healthcare Coverage: States’ Rejection of Medicaid Expansion

Almost a year ago, I was working as a research intern at the National Institute of Health. It was during my lunch break when my friend and coworker peered over her smartphone to announce to the table that the Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act. Many of us had followed the debates and controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. And for the rest of the day, the excitement in the building was palpable as news of the ruling spread.

Ideally, the Affordable Care Act was indeed something to be excited about. It eliminates many gaps in healthcare, particularly amongst the uninsured. Notable changes to insurance coverage includes young adults’ eligibility to join their parents health plans, an end to exclusion of children and adults with pre-existing conditions, and a prohibition of lifetime or annual limits on benefits.

However, the Supreme Court ruling also struck down the law’s mandated expansion of Medicaid, a loophole that some states are now exploiting. With Wisconsin as the latest state legislature to reject the proposed Medicaid expansion, many of the country’s citizens with the lowest incomes would be among those left uninsured.

aviary-21
A handy illustration of how the hole created by rejection of Medicaid expansion would lie directly under the poorest.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cited “fiscal uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C.” among the reasons for his opposition to the Medicaid expansion, but Democrats view the act as another ploy in the GOP’s continued resistance of “Obamacare.” You can check where your state currently stands using this interactive map.

Regardless of the reasons, states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri, along with their rejection of Medicaid expansion limit the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. Their resistance also burdens those who are the poorest. And such effects illustrate a dire failure in our basic responsibility to care for those most in need.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Revolving Door Admissions and the Future of Healthcare

Treating symptoms without addressing the root causes seems to be an affliction of modern society. Here, take another aspirin if you still have a headache. But why do we have a headache in the first place? Not enough caffeine in my case probably, but that’s not necessarily a universal issue.

One area where this avoidance of the real issue really stands out is healthcare for the homeless. Or indeed in America, healthcare for any uninsured. It’s been referred to as “revolving door admissions.” Patients coming into the hospital, often the ER if they’re unable to afford primary care, having their symptoms treated, and then being discharged, only to return to the same dire situation they were in before. With nothing resolved, eventually they end up right back in the hospital.

Gary-Spall-007

What is needed is a support network to actually address their problems. If poor health is a result of homelessness and malnutrition, then those are the issues that should be addressed. There should be a way to transfer the bill footed by the public for emergency room visits by the uninsured, and instead transfer it to preventative care, keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.

In the United Kingdom, the government is giving £10 million, about $15 million, to charities that work with the homeless after their discharge from the hospital. The idea being to address their health and housing needs outside of the hospital, and so break them from the cycle of endless re-admission for the same maladies. In a way it’s empowerment: giving a person the means to take care of themselves, rather than simply patching them up and shuffling them along.

It will be interesting to see how much can be accomplished with the funding. But it is at least a positive to see the foresight, and to see organizations focused on solving the root causes of homelessness, rather than just temporarily alleviating the strain.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

The Miranda Priestly Dilemma

Confession: I am a huge, huge Meryl Streep fan. Okay, it’s not much of a confession, since everyone loves her. Although, I will admit that despite Meryl’s long career in film (yes, we’re on a first-name basis), what won me over was seeing her in The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl plays the feared and powerful fashion magazine editor/ice-queen Miranda Preistly. In the film, she is at the top of the couture food chain, along with her ability to shake the fashion world with a purse of her lips.

miranda

But I digress, since we’re not here to review Meryl’s glorious career—a worthwhile activity for another day. What got me thinking about The Devil Wears Prada, and specifically what I call the Miranda Priestly Dilemma, was the Pew study released this week on “breadwinner moms.” We now see a historical high in percentage of households (40%) with mothers as the primary or sole source of income. However, the study indicates that three-quarters of adults believe women who work make it harder for families to raise children. Plus, half of adults also think working women strain their marriages.

These beliefs, at best, hearken back to more traditional views on women’s roles. At worst, they perpetuate a sexism still visible in gendered income disparities within the workplace. Hence, the Miranda Priestly Dilemma. Although successful in her career, the fictional Miranda Priestly has multiple divorces behind her and spends little time at home. The implication from our pop culture is that a successful career woman must not only sacrifice her family life but must also have the shrewish personality of a harpy.

So is it too much to want it all? I remember reading a New York Times article about a medical student trying to simultaneously navigate school and pregnancy. The story particularly resonated with me, maybe because I’m currently wading in my own medical school applications, but mainly because it brings up an important question: what happens when a woman’s career timeline clashes with her biological timeline?

The optimal time for a woman to start a family is in her twenties to early thirties, but this is also the optimal timeframe to jumpstart a career. Whether it be more daycare options in the office or paid maternity leaves, it seems that the workplace needs to adjust to the long-emerging working mother. Although women may (biologically) have more to balance than men, it hardly makes work and family mutually exclusive. The increase in women as the primary breadwinners signifies an increasing prominence of women in the workplace.

And traditional views will just have to catch up to already present realities.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

“Celebrating” World Hunger Day

“There are starving children in Africa.”

That was the phrase I’d hear as a child if I didn’t want to finish a meal. The lesson I suppose being to be grateful for what you’ve got. It speaks to a deeper truth, though. While our personal food wastage, the level of which can sometimes be staggering, is a symptom of the problem, the root cause is an inequality of global food supply. Studies by the World Bank have shown there is enough food being produced worldwide to support a global population, and even create up to a 50% surplus if you look at the total yields before food storage issues and crop spoilage. Why then do one in eight people on this planet live their lives malnourished?

On May 28th we celebrated World Hunger Day. Celebrated? Poor word choice. Acknowledged? Highlighted? Called attention to the inequality of global food supply and raised awareness of the ongoing issue of global hunger? Better.

malnutrition

So what to do about this inequality? In the United States, less than one percent of the foreign aid budget is spent on improving nutrition. The irony there, though, is that the most value for our dollar could be garnered by spending it on just that. Annually, 2.5 million children are dying worldwide due to inadequate nutrition. That’s fully one third of all preventable childhood deaths. And that number just speaks to mortality, not to those children whose growth is retarded or who suffer lifelong damage due to malnutrition. This is where aid should be going. Preventing those losses would lead to stronger, healthier workforces as those children mature, and would increase the benefits of aid given at different levels.

In America, programs designed to improve child nutrition have seen significant success over the last 50 years. These programs, largely introduced through school meals, have traditionally focused more on under­-nourishment. Now there’s a shift to combating mal-nourishment. It’s an important distinction and a different gradient on the scale of poor nutrition. The difference between not having enough to eat, and not eating well. Quantity must definitely be addressed, especially in developing nations where famines can still wreak havoc, but quality must follow soon after, or better yet be tied in.

We have a duty here to combat global malnutrition, but the fight doesn’t begin outside of our borders. It’s merely a continuation.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Superfood for Thought

We find ourselves caught up these days, especially in cities with a “foodie” culture, in the latest healthy trend. Superfoods, supplements, and exotic items on the menu are a natural outlet for disposable income, using it to improve the quality of our own lives with the added benefit of being environment- and health-conscious.

Give a thought next time though, as you bite into say, a delicious quinoa wrap, give a thought to the story of that quinoa—before you pat yourself on the back for supporting Peruvian farmers, choosing a more environmentally friendly crop, and embracing the health benefits of this miracle grain. There can be unfortunate global repercussions due to our increasing obsession with these products.

Quinoa harvest in Bolivia

It’s a great irony too. For in Peru, where the majority of quinoa is produced, many locals can no longer afford to eat it. Having been the staple food in this region for hundreds of years, Western demand has now pushed prices up to a level where the majority is exported, and the diet of locals has been supplanted by imported junk food. The push in the West to diversify our diet, and in a lot of circles reduce the impact of animal husbandry by moving towards vegetarianism, has led to the opposite effect in the countries from where we import these crops. In the US quinoa is added to the diet and junk foods reduced, and in Peru quinoa is removed from the diet and junk foods increased.

If everything ends up being in balance globally, one step forward one step back, are we really accomplishing anything by being “conscious”?

Answer that question and I’ll buy you the world. And all the quinoa in it. Truth is I feel torn, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Maybe we should be looking for alternatives. Maybe we should be moving away from such a focus on meat, especially red meat, in our diets. But we need to be aware that there’s a cost for everything. That quite often “local” is better than “organic.” Transferring our problems isn’t solving them—only making them somebody else’s.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Takeaways from the Live Below the Line Challenge

It’s a funny thing, taking part in a challenge like Live Below the Line. My sister Jeca, who took part as well, wondered at the beginning about whose awareness we were raising. She pointed out that the people taking part would all be people who were already aware. And in many cases, had also experienced some sort of deprivation. For her, whilst traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, for my girlfriend Steph, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia for two years, and for me during various points of my travels through India. She didn’t mean it in a negative way, more in a “How do we really get the point across?” kinda way.

And in answer to that, all I can say is that it was eye-opening for me. I vacillated throughout the week on the difficulty of the challenge and the perspective I was supposed to be gaining. Certain days the difficulty wasn’t in the amount of food, or even the quality of what we were consuming. It was just the longing for supplemental things. A piece of fruit. A salad. Some juice. Heck, maybe even candy when we went to the cinema. Other days though there was a noticeable adverse reaction. Trying to maintain our normal lifestyle, like on Wednesday being on my feet for five hours at work, cycling around town, swimming at the gym, hot yoga in the evening… On that day I, and Steph, both felt the effects.

I read about other participants in the Challenge and there were a lot of similar comments. People crashing early in the evenings and going to bed, reducing or eliminating their workout routines, generally slowing down through the week.

And therein was the biggest take-away for me. Surviving on $1.50 a day, if you adapt your lifestyle to suit, is do-able. Perhaps not easy, but do-able. However, maintaining a normal active lifestyle is increasingly difficult. And for those who actually reside below the extreme poverty line, there’s no choice in the matter. For those at that level, there isn’t the option to take it easy one day. To reduce the routine. Because the routine is survival, and the attempt to maintain even their small amount of income.

So in the end, I did gain a little more awareness. And the hope is that those we talked to, and those who followed Jeca, Steph, and I as we took on the Challenge, will have lived vicariously through us. Maybe it will have given them pause for a moment, to think about the issue, and who knows? Maybe next year a few of them will take up the Challenge.

We’re not looking to change the world today. Just trying to make certain we’re on the right path.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.