Rolling Stone Cover Makes Infamy Look Like Celebrity

The August 1 cover of Rolling Stone has all the classic elements the magazine is famous for employing: the iconic lettering, bold black text on a faded background, a brooding young man with tousled hair and a trendy t-shirt. It takes a moment to realize what’s different. The title description makes no mention of newly released albums or interviews with a popular TV cast, only the words “THE BOMBER.”

The man on the cover is no rock star. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers involved in the Boston marathon bombing, is accused of killing three people and wounding hundreds.

Rolling Stone cover pic

Outrage over the cover choice, including a #BoycottRollingStone Twitter trend and an open letter from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has led many retailers to announce that they will not carry the issue on newsstands. However, some are also jumping to Rolling Stone’s defense, calling the image “smart, unnerving journalism.”

Rolling Stone is no stranger to covering issues more serious than the latest True Blood scoop. No one denies that the magazine engages in its share of serious journalism. On the other hand, to the average American, Rolling Stone conjures up more visions of half-naked celebrities than reports on the economy.

Despite the controversy over the cover, the article itself is a fascinating read. Nicknamed “Jahar,” Tsarnaev has a story far from the usual terrorist narrative. He was, by all appearances, a typical American boy born to an immigrant family. This was no “I always knew there was something off about him” scenario.

The cover drives home that point, but it also enters the other extreme. The Tsarnaev photo looks like he waltzed into a studio and had an hour-long photo shoot for the perfect look. Tsarnaev’s photo is styled like those of the many stars who have graced the magazine’s cover. Here, Tsarnaev, too, is famous. He looks like a celebrity. Rolling Stone’s article paints an in-depth portrait of Tsarnaev, a worthy feat of journalism, but its cover only serves to glamorize the so-called “monster.”

What do you think of Rolling Stone’s cover choice? Post a comment so we can start talking.

-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.

Our Ties with Skagit Valley Workers (And Why Their Protests are Important)

In 2009, four members of BSB traveled the west coast to visit farms, work with migrant farmers, ask questions about our produce industry… and film every second of the journey. The resulting footage became our self-titled documentary. Sure, it all happened over three years ago—but our project seems more relevant than ever in light of recent protests from Skagit Valley farm workers.

A program in the Skagit Valley—the Youth Migrant Project—inspired the documentary in the first place. And in the past week, workers from Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, WA protested wages, management, and the hire of temporary visa workers for the late summer harvest, among other things.

Here's one of our founders picking tomatoes.
Here’s one of our founders picking tomatoes.

Knowing what we know about migrants after the documentary, their wage demands aren’t surprising: they want a raise from 30 cents to 70 cents per pound. But we also know that picking berries can be tedious labor—even just picking enough to reach a couple cents.

Though the Sakumas have accommodated some worker demands, others have been tabled for an unknown period of time. The farm owner, Steve Sakuma, says that he can’t financially afford to raise wages—but overall, he was glad to address the protests quickly.

Many factors (and hands) go into the produce you buy at the market—and sometimes farmers are forced to compromise worker wages and conditions in the process. We’ve found that the situation is far more complex than farm owners simply withholding money from their laborers.

Check out some of our documentary clips (here and here) to learn more about BSB’s experience—and click here for a short history of the Youth Migrant Project. Let us know what you think: about farm management, worker rights, or the situation in Burlington. Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

How to Organize a Global Protest

The pace of change is picking up.

Last week I wrote about the power of youth and social media in shaping protest and instigating change. It seems today as though the move to protest is gathering steam. In Brazil, Chile, and Bulgaria, long-running protests have continued (and in some instances escalated); and in Egypt these past weeks, mass protests eventually led to a military imposition and the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power.

In all cases, different events and different grievances led to the protests. The Brazilian demonstrations began as a protest against increased bus fares, in Bulgaria it was government corruption, and in Chile demands for improved education. What they all have in common is that the protests expand and become general calls to action, a grocery list of changes and demands for a better world.

Trouble is, nobody quite knows how to satiate those generalized demands. Occupy Wall Street died with a whimper at some point in the last year (do you remember exactly when?) because an undefined call for change was never followed up with an actual procedure for it. And in 2011, protestors in Egypt began the Arab Spring and called for the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power—two years later, an eerie scene of déjà-vu plays out on the streets of Cairo.

Protest

It’s easier than ever to organize mass rallies. I mean, the protests in Chile are being largely coordinated by teenagers! Thank Facebook and more than that, Twitter, the great faceless equalizer. We can be anybody we want to be in 140 characters or less. Wanna motivate the masses? Pick a hashtag, any hashtag. And simultaneously a wave of discontentment seems to be sweeping the world. We were promised great things but they have yet to arrive. Mid-twenties crises are tough.

This isn’t me condemning or praising these ongoing global protests—just musing on a continuing theme. What I do know, though, is that change is the one constant we can all cling to. And given the choice, I’ll take the better half of change: the positive one.

-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.

Spotlight: Jumpstart

This summer I’ve spent quite a bit of time visiting with my family in Connecticut. These kinds of trips to my hometown inevitably make me nostalgic; side effects include stuffing myself with home-cooked meals and watching more Disney movies than I care to admit. I was even inspired to do a throwback-drive-through of my old high school.

However, if I kept driving a bit farther into a neighboring district, what I encounter would be vastly different. Compared to the state high school graduation rate of over 90%, school districts in Connecticut’s poorest cities face graduation rates hovering just above 50% – a pretty stark contrast for a twenty-minute drive. This example is only one part of a larger national pattern, most often termed the achievement gap.

Jumpstart, a national supplemental preschool program, believes that part of the solution is to tackle this gap early on. Research agrees, as studies have shown that preschool can have long-term effects on learning. By the time they start kindergarten, children in low-income neighborhoods may already be behind their peers, a gap that widens over time.

Jumpstart

The Jumpstart model combines volunteers, largely consisting of college students, and preschool classrooms to create an optimal learning environment. With activities like reading and “circle time,” the program aims to not only promote development in children but also to encourage a sense of community.

Just following its 20th anniversary, Jumpstart has come a long way since its New Haven origins in 1993. Today, the organization also heads numerous national campaigns to celebrate a love of reading and to advocate the importance of early education.

The achievement gap in the U.S. is one of the most prominent issues in education today. Although research indicators often focus on later statistics, such as high school graduation rates or SAT scores, the fight to close the gap can start much earlier. And so far, Jumpstart has been at the front lines of this battle.

 

-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.

Racism Today: The Voting Rights Act and Paula Deen

In the midst of several landmark cases, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the decision, Section 4 of the Act established “preclearance” methods to determine which states needed federal approval to change voting laws. Intended to protect minority voting rights, Section 4 largely affected southern states with a history of discriminatory practices.

Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, acknowledged that voting discrimination still exists, a hard-to-dispute reality given the numerous claims of voter suppression during the 2012 elections. However, the more conservative side of the bench found that the current formula under Section 4 is an outdated measure, applicable in 1965 but not today.

VotingRightsAct

In other news, Paula Deen, one of America’s most recognizable celebrity chefs, has been battling accusations of discrimination and use of racial slurs in her restaurants. It’s unclear whether this latest scandal will crumble Paula Deen’s deep-fried empire, but her statements are reminiscent of the South’s complicated racial history.

There is no doubt that the fight against racism and discrimination has come a long way since the 1960s. As a result of her comments, Paula Deen has been harshly judged in the court of public opinion, and sponsors are fleeing. But the Paula Deen debacle also highlights the continuing existence of racist attitudes today.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act oversimplifies a complex problem. No, we are not where we were in 1965, but it would be naïve to think anti-discriminatory safeguards have outrun their course.

The ruling does allow for the possibility that Congress will instate a new formula for the Voting Rights Act, an updated preclearance equation. But with the current state of a deadlocked Congress, people are far from optimistic that such a measure will pass. In the meantime minority voting blocks are left especially vulnerable.

Historically, the path towards racial equality has been an uphill climb, and we have been steadily pushing upwards. It will be significantly more difficult to continue on without the buffers that prevent us from sliding back.

-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.

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.

A New Generation and the End of DOMA

It’s all about the Supreme Court lately! Recent decisions handed down dealt with hot topics like affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, and marriage equality. It was the Supreme Court equivalent of a much anticipated season finale.

Especially amongst young adults, no other case in recent memory paralleled the kind of attention received by United States v. Windsor. On June 26, Justice Kennedy joined the four liberal-leaning justices in overturning and rendering unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Same-sex marriage has traditionally been one of the most divisive and controversial issues in politics, but this decision had my Facebook newsfeed exploding in approval. Obviously, my personal Facebook is not a proper sampling of the American population, but polls have shown that public opinion on gay marriage has shifted dramatically in the last decade.

<> on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.

For the first time in history, more people support than oppose legalizing same-sex marriage. Many lawmakers, including several Republicans, have followed suit and announced public support in favor of marriage equality. President Clinton, who signed DOMA in 1996, penned his own opposition to the law. So what brought on this national change of heart?

One possibility lies with the younger generation: compared to the older populations, “Millennials,” people born after 1980, show overwhelming support for marriage equality. The rise of social media may also play a role in shaping the views of young adults, giving way to “trendy” opinions.

And while it’s true that certain views have the tendency to become fad-like (I still remember the explosion of Livestrong bracelets), let’s give ourselves a bit more credit. The defeat of DOMA in the Supreme Court is a significant win for the LGBT community. Maybe it’s accurate that what the “me me me generation” really supports is Facebook likes. But maybe, setting cynicism aside, we are also celebrating an important step for progress and equality.

What do you think about the rulings? Leave us a comment!

-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.

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.