Is Trump the new Gorbachev?

By Brie Bristol

U.S. President Trump’s prime-time speech on Jan. 8. (Source: CBC News)

My fellow Americans, I am speaking to you because there is growing bigotry against the citizens who live south of the United States border, and as an Afro Latina, every day this “crisis” makes me ashamed to be an American.

President Trump’s speech from his cozy Oval Office begins with addressing the “thousands of illegal immigrants” that he claims are at our border. It seems that the President does not understand the term “thousands,” since these numbers are actually in the hundreds according to his own administration. However, this is not the only “fake news” fact that the President boasted about to his people on Jan. 8. The president asserted from the White House that the U.S. proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants, but as a society we see immigrants being discriminated against and enclosed in camps every day—as if they are stray dogs and we are animal control. It is as if racism will never be abolished; it will only be redesigned to discriminate against other minorities whenever a leader will it.

Mr. Trump stated that all Americans are hurt by southern border migration into the United States, but I feel no hurt for my struggling brothers and sisters. The President, within 43 seconds of his speech, proceeded to fabricate the imminent danger to public safety that undocumented immigrants will bring to our society. The danger of straining resources, lack of jobs, and stagnating wages being driven into the dirt as the causation of these migrants bringing drugs into our communities is absurd. Mr. Trump claims that heroin from Mexico is going to ruin the U.S., but how fragile of a country do we live in? Apparently very fragile, if by his account, more Americans will be killed this year from smuggled Mexican drugs than were killed in the “entire Vietnam War.” Really Mr. President? I don’t understand how smuggled drugs from Mexico are going to ruin our society any more than the other illegal cargo that is entering the United States through legal entry points. Drugs, specifically from Mexico, can’t be a crisis if the President is allowing them to also arrive from other countries.

Let me backtrack to the immigrants in camps. The apparent pawns of “vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs” are children being mercilessly ripped away from their parental guardians. Around 20,000 children, according to the Department of Homeland Security and the President, are being placed in holding camps while they await a citizenship trial. Mr. Trump feels that these children should be returned to their collapsing south of the border homes, rather than allow for them to enter in through the “border security loopholes” and live with U.S. citizen family members or be placed into foster care. When will our communities see that these children are not criminals, but they are seeking help and searching for their right to be in a better environment?  

It has been proposed by the man in the Oval Office that a border wall will keep Americans safe from criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and undocumented Latinx children. At a cost of $5.7 billion, for a physical steel barrier “critical to border security,” which is allegedly rational. This rational claim by the President will only continue to cause chaos till the end of his term next year. With all the noise being made, maybe one day we can all scream the famous phrase by former President Ronald Reagan together since history likes to redesign itself whenever society wills it—Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!

CEPA organizers ‘extend an olive branch’ to Board of Trustees, push for student debt relief

CEPA organizers Blythe White and Erick Plowden speak in front of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees (Ethan Bakuli/Rebirth Project)

By Ethan Bakuli

On a particularly cold Thursday morning, a group of University Of Massachusetts student organizers bared frigid temperatures as they waited to enter the Old Chapel. The group, comprised of members from the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy, were in attendance for the Dec. 13 meeting of the UMass Board of Trustees, planning to push the board members to address rising tuition and mandatory fees that have priced out university students.

The Board of Trustees meeting began with a call to order by chairman Robert Manning, who quickly highlighted UMass Amherst as an “anomaly” compared to other universities in the “industry of higher education”. Nationally, he cited a declining trend in enrollment and graduation rates that could lead several private and public colleges to “go out of business” within the next five years.

“We do not have a student debt crisis…we have a graduation rate crisis,” Manning said.

Following brief statements by UMass Amherst student trustee Jiya Nair and UMass system president Marty Meehan, the floor was open to four public speakers.

CEPA organizers Blythe White and Erick Plowden shared their own stories about facing student debt. In particular, White focused on her family’s struggle to keep her and her sister in school after her father’s workplace injury. While White, a Social Thought and Political Economy major, is still enrolled at UMass, her older sister was forced to drop out of school after loans proved to burdensome.

“I did not come to UMass Amherst to face more economic hardship than if I got a full-time job,” White said.

Plowden highlighted the disconnect between students and administrators over the student debt crisis, pushing trustee members to lobby alongside students to have legislators renew investment in public higher education. While Plowden spoke in front of the board, White walked over to Manning and Meehan with an olive branch, aiming to reconcile with the trustees and collaborate with CEPA to provide students with a “debt free future”.

Eve Weinbaum, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, echoed CEPA’s demands by asking the board support to the Massachusetts Teachers Association’ “Fund Our Future” campaign, a movement and legislation aimed to address underfunding across K-12 and higher education. Anneta Argyres, president of the UMass Professional Staff Union, spoke about the budget crisis facing UMass Boston, alongside rising parking fees for students and employees. Argyres, said that those fees would impact the  “half of UMass Boston employees [that] make less than minimum wage”, and demanded that the board immediately vote to release $12 million of central reserves toward address issues surrounding the budget deficit.

“You have the money, you have the authority to reverse this,” Argyres said to chairman Manning.

Students began to vacate the chapel after Manning refused to bring the central reserves funding demand by Argyres to a vote. In particular, Student Government Association president Timmy Sullivan was frustrated with the chairman’s misunderstanding of the student debt crisis.

“Either you’re a liar or grossly uninformed,” Sullivan said, citing that Massachusetts ranks seventh in the nation for state residents sharing the burden student debt.

After CEPA organizers left the Old Chapel, they gathered around the Goodell lawn and formed a rally. Their action, named “Fees Must Fall”, draws inspiration from the 2015-2016 South African student-led protest movement, which sought to halt the increase in tuition fees for South African college students and push for increased government spending on public higher education.

CEPA campaign coordinator Mohita Abbaraju rallies outside trustees meeting (Ethan Bakuli/Rebirth Project)

“Students attending UMass are in a crisis of debt,” began a media statement handed out by CEPA. “For the graduating class of 2017, the average level of student debt for a student in the UMass system is $30,926.25.”

As CEPA organizers James Cordero, Emma Kinney and Sazia Patel spoke in front of the crowd, talking at length about the worsening student debt crisis in light of tuition inflation and decreased state and federal funding toward public education.

“The graduation crisis exists because college is so unaffordable,” Cordero said, in reference to Manning’s comment at the beginning of the trustees’ meeting. “We have a student debt crisis for the same [reason]. To say that we don’t have a student debt crisis is simply a complete misunderstanding of the reality that we as students are facing.”

Following the demonstration, CEPA members met with state legislators at the campus to share their testimonials and continue a dialogue around the student debt crisis. In terms of future campaigns, CEPA members look toward “Public Higher Education Advocacy Day” on March 21, 2019. At that event, CEPA organizers, alongside university students, are invited to talk to state representatives and make sure that the student debt is “an issue that is constantly in their minds.”

Cultural Connections Winter 2018(photos)

by Sifa Kasongo and Cynthia Ntinunu

The Center of Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) held a “Cultural Connections” event on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2018 in the Campus Center Auditorium. This was the second time Cultural Connections is happening; the first event was held at the beginning of the semester.

All photos credits go to Sifa Kasongo and Cynthia Ntinunu

Cultural Connections is a time for students, faculty, and staff to come together and get to know each other better. It’s a time and space where people can truly be themselves while enjoying various performances, conversations, and of course good food.

Performances included poetry reading by Student Government Association vice president Nathalie Amazan, dancing by Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA), a performance by Shaha: The Storytellers, and Irish step dancing by newly founded UMass Irish Dance.

The room was filled with friendship, laughter, and a mini dance battle between one student and faculty member. But most importantly, it was a welcoming space for all to come and leave their worries at the door.  

Socialization Tax: Why Students of Color at UMass Amherst are Paying to Have a Good Time

by Sifa Kasongo

When Deborah Kibazo, now a junior, first came to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she tried to embrace the social life. Like many students, she tried out the fraternity parties. But Kibazo, who is black, said she was often turned away from the doors.

“I was told it was full and as I was walking away just to see them let some non-people of color into the building,” Kibazo said. “My friends and I could tell that it wasn’t full.”

Kibazo added that when speaking with other black students on campus, she realized that she wasn’t alone. Many students of color had felt both unwelcomed and uncomfortable at parties on a campus that is predominantly white. The students of color that had attended said they found little in common with the other partygoers to enjoy the party.

Continue reading “Socialization Tax: Why Students of Color at UMass Amherst are Paying to Have a Good Time”

What Do You Love About Yourself?-Vox Pop(audio)

by Cynthia Ntinunu

Love. It’s a four letter word that has so much meaning to it. We love things. We love concepts. We love others. But what about loving ourselves? In a world that likes to tell you what you should look like, act like, and think like, it can be hard to look at yourself and say ‘I love me’. 

I took to the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus to ask a simple question: What do you love about yourself? Listen to what people had to say: 

What do people at UMass Amherst love about themselves? We find out!

UMass Amherst students ‘March Against Racism & White Supremacy’, bring list of demands to administration

A mixed crowd of undergraduate and graduate students gathered in front of the Student Union (Photo: Brie Bristol/Rebirth Project)

By Brie Bristol

A usual day around one in the afternoon at the University of Massachusetts Amherst consists of students in class, eating in the dining halls, studying at the library, or working out at the recreation center. On Thursday Dec. 6, it was different than the norm. About 200 people marched together to “denounce the acts of hate and cowardice plaguing our campus in recent months”, such as written threats and racial profiling.

In the past three months, UMass Amherst has experienced various racist incidents. A Whitmore employee had campus police called on him, the Melville residence hall had three racially targeted issues in a row and white supremacy flyers were found around campus. While this is not the first time these incidents have happened on the campus, their frequency over the fall semester has made it a deep concern for the UMass community.

Continue reading “UMass Amherst students ‘March Against Racism & White Supremacy’, bring list of demands to administration”

Eyewitness Account: Solidarity with the Migrant Caravan

Embed from Getty Images

By Sifa Kasongo

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, students and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Amherst joined the International Socialist Organization (ISO) at 6:30 p.m. in the Campus Center to hear a firsthand account of the struggles of the migrant caravan and how people can show solidarity and support.

The firsthand account came from Fermin Valle, a queer South American activist, an ISO member and a doctoral student in higher education at UMass.

Valle discussed his experience traveling down to Mexico City, where he met some of the migrants, asylum seekers and people who are a part of the caravan.

According to the New York Times, the migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with fewer than 200 people; but as people got word of what was happening, “the mobilization quickly grew”. The migrants are leaving their countries in search of better wages and a better future for their families.

The migrants, who mostly come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are travelling thousands of miles through South America and arriving at the US-Mexico border, planning to either stay in Mexico or cross the border. According to BBC News, they are staying in temporary shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.

The path migrants have taken over the last two months (Source: BBC News)

“I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I had to go and figure out what’s going on,” Valle remembered saying to his brother before heading down to Mexico City with him.

When Valle arrived he saw around 1,000 people, most of whom were from El Salvador, taking refuge in a church. While he was down there, he soon noticed the press leaving, but he stayed behind to talk to the migrants in order to understand their situation and be able to share their stories. Through these conversations, that was how he met Daniela*.

Daniela is a mother of four, with a daughter who got accepted into a university in El Salvador. She had lost her job due to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement signed by the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Daniela left her country and joined the caravan in hopes of crossing the border and finding a better-paying job to pay for the costs of university for her daughter.

Valle wanted to talk to more of the migrants and hear their stories, so he organized a discussion where over 30 people showed up. Xenophobia was the topic of discussion, which the migrants were aware has spread across the world.

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. It has not only created divisions between Mexicans and the world but also created divisions among the people who live in Mexico.

What some of the migrants didn’t know was that while xenophobia is prevalent, resistance exists. Valle shared with them about the time when millions of people gathered to protest against Trump’s inauguration and the ongoing rallies in support of the migrant caravan.

When they received this news, joy erupted and their morale improved. However, while broad supports of the migrants exists, Valle wanted the attendees to think about how we all can organize and have a bigger turnout in support for the caravan.

“There’s so much history in this caravan,” Valle said. “They want to know where in the U.S. we are going to organize the broadest support not only to resist Trump, resist white supremacy, but to meet them at the border.”

Valle asked the attendees to fight the xenophobia they hear about brown and black people here at UMass, in the U.S. and around the world.

He further said that in the U.S., people have a responsibility to identify with and “break with the chains of racism and white supremacy that pull us to align with the rich and powerful who are running this country.”

Moving forward, Valle wants us to figure out in classrooms how people are humanizing the struggles and lives of people who are looking for a better future to send money back to their families.

He says that a socialist solution is that there needs to be open borders and the government needs to “let them all in.”

“We already live in a world where borders are open to capitalists and so they should be open to the working class,” Valle said.

Below are some ways Valle says you can help show support for migrants in the caravan:

  • Fight against xenophobia
  • Build solidarity across the U.S. for the individuals and families in the caravan, because currently those migrants aren’t seeing that there is a lot of support.
  • Put pressure on the government to provide migrants with fair hearings, safety, etc.

The International Socialist Organization meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Campus Center in room 804-08.

*= ‘Daniela’ was a pseudonym used by Valle to preserve the anonymity of the migrant woman he spoke with.