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June 06, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2005-06-06

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A vision for a new student activism

The Michigan Daily - Monday, June 6, 2005 - 5
Save our political discourse now!

About a year ago, a member of the
Old Fourth Ward Association
contacted members of the Ann
Arbor city council. He wanted to discuss
some house fires in neighborhoods near
the University campus. Through that e-
mail and subsequent discussions over the
next several months, OFW members tried
to make a specious connection between
couches on porches and house fires. Thus
was born the campaign to ban the porch
couches that students love and homeown-
er associations hate.
The stakes were raised when couch
opponents tried to push the ban through
city council before students got back to
school last fall. Fortunately, quick-witted
students got wind of the proposed ban and
started talking it up on their blogs and web
sites. Students and other sensible commu-
nity members debunked the myth of the
fire hazard and stood up for the simple
freedom to put comfortable furniture on
one's porch. For the time being, thanks to
these students, you and I are safe to sit on
our couches this summer eating Stucchi's
ice cream or sipping a beer after work.
And in the process, these students exposed
the campaign for what it was: an attempt
by organized homeowners to push their
values on a largely disorganized student-
renter population within Ann Arbor.
The calculus of local politics is this:
Nearly every segment of the city has hom-
eowner and business groups to look after
its interests. The Old West Side Associa-
tion, the OFW and the State Street Busi-
ness Association all lobby and organize
within the city to promote their agendas.
Students, however, have no organiza-
tion to represent their sizable interests in
Ann Arbor (Michigan Student Assembly
being a campus-based organization). We
don't have much say on local issues; we
don't have much representation within
city government; we don't have much of
a chance to set the agenda for Ann Arbor.
This is despite students' composing
somewhere around a third of the city's
population - in fact, in some areas like
the Old Fourth Ward (the neighborhood
north of Huron Drive, actually now the
city's First Ward), students and renters
are at least a whopping 90 percent of the
neighborhood's population.
This situation is not unique to Ann
Arbor - in college towns across the state
and the country, sizable student popula-
tions are at the mercy of neighborhood
political machines. Ask your friends in
East Lansing why they can't have couches

on their porches. Ask your friends at Fer-
ris State about the padlock ordinance
there, where three noise violations can get
you kicked out of your house and makes
the house uninhabitable for up to a year;
or your friends at the University of Florida
about the one there. Students in Ann Arbor
are not alone in not having been organized
to fight against these draconian measures
when they are proposed. They have cer-
tainly not put themselves in a position to
help shape the city agenda.
What is unique to Ann Arbor is that this
is about to change. Recognizing the poten-
tial strength of the student vote and the raft
of issues that affect students who live in
the city, students are launching neighbor-
hood associations of their own. By orga-
nizing students by geography, these new
associations intend to overcome the tran-
sience of student renters. An advantage the
homeowner associations have is that their
members know each other from commu-
nity activities: school open houses, church
groups and gardening clubs. Students,
on the other hand, often don't know their
neighbors and identify more with their
campus, their programs or other groups
unrelated to where they live. By getting stu-
dents to identify with their neighborhoods
and mitigating the year-to-year move-
out cycle with a stable political structure,
student neighborhood associations will
force city politicians - who are elected
by geographical wards - to respond to
student issues. Only then will students be
acknowledged as the enduring group with
common interests that they are.
It is at that point that we can get
beyond aesthetic battles and someone
can address why nearly half the renters in
Ann Arbor, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau, pay more than thirty percent of
their income for housing - exceeding
federal standards for low- and middle-
income renters. Or perhaps then someone
will remedy the lax enforcement of the
housing code and reprehensible lack of
maintenance by absentee landlords, both
of which contribute to blight in student
neighborhoods. Or someone can explain
why residential parking permits - which
limit parking on public streets to immedi-
ate locals - are being pushed by home-
owner associations and subsidized by the
city. Join the first student neighborhood
group, the New West Side Association,
and see how you can help. And introduce
yourself to your neighbor.
Winling is the founder of the New West
Side Association. For more information,
visit www.newwestside.org.

y first
to the
Lyndon LaRouche
PAC came this
past winter, when I
attended a lecture by
Professor Juan Cole
on theIraq war. Dur-
ing the question and
answer period at the end, someone from
the PAC asked a question. Professor Cole,
in his response, referred to members of the
group as "cultish." The questioner quickly
became agitated and screamed "This man
is a fascist!" loud enough so that everyone
in the large room could hear it.
"Professor Cole's a fascist?" I thought
to myself. "He sure hides it well."
So I can't honestly say I didn't know
what I was in for when I accepted a flyer
from a "LaRouchie" on the subway a cou-
ple of weeks ago. "Save our U.S. Consitu-
tion Now!" screamed the headline, and it
was authored by the man himself, Lyndon
H. LaRouche, Jr.
Now the subject of the flyer is the judi-
cial filibuster controversy, which has since
been resolved in a manner that didn't fully
please anyone. Butidespite the dated nature
of the subject, much can be learned from
the tone and brand of rhetoric utilized:
"Leading Democrats and other rec-
ognize that there is an ominous parallel
between the incendiary activities of White
House radical right-wing propaganda min-
ister Karl Rove and Vice President Dick

'Hermann' Cheney's plot, and the incen-
diary actions used by Hermann Goer-
ing which led to Reichschancellor Adolf
Hitler's seizure of dictatorial powers on
February 28, 1933 ... Tens of millions of
people died as a result of what happened
in Berlin on February 27-28, 1933. With
the present Bush Administration pushing
for 'preventative use' of existing nuclear
weapons now, many more than tens of
millions will die world-wide, if we let the
U.S. walk down that same road now. That
increasingly hysterically desperate admin-
istration now intends to use those weap-
ons just about as quickly as you can say,
'Remember what happened with Iraq.'
I'm going to respond to the final part
of this excerpt first. The Washington Post
reported on May 15 ("Not Just A Last
Resort?") that the United States' Strate-
gic Command, or Stratcom, does indeed
have a contingency plan, CONPLAN
8022, that includes a nuclear option.
Specifically, it would utilize "a specially
configured earth-penetrating bomb to
destroy deeply buried facilities." Is this
scary? Yes. The Post article itself refers to
the nuclear side of the plan as "disconcert-
ing." But does this mean that Bush is itch-
ing to use a nuclear weapon? Of course
not. For LaRouche to argue that this is the
goal or intention of the Bush Administra-
tion - nuclear war - smacks of the ide-
ological blind spots that arise when you
hate too much and think too little.
As for the Hitler comparisons - why
should I even bother? Really, what's the

point? Comparing Bush to one of the
20th century's most notorious figures is so
utterly sophomoric - and, unfortunately,
cliched - that it's hardly worth respond-
ing to. Suffice it to say, Bush is not Hitler.
Bush is nowhere near Hitler. When did it
become impossible to say simply, "I dis-
like the guy, and here's why..."?
I'm notgoing to comparefBush to Hitler.
I'm not going to claim that he wants to start
a nuclear war. I'm not even going to take
the very Bush-esque route of branding
him as "evil." What I'm going to do is say
that it is utterly remarkable that, after the
innumerable claims made by him and his
administration aboutmIraq turned out to be
utterly false, no one was ever held account-
able. See what I just did, LaRouchies?
Wasn't that easy? You don't need to imme-
diately seek out the most sensationalistic,
hyperbolic ways to convey your dislike
of the man. You don't need to call anyone
you disagree with a "fascist." When the
facts are on your side, all you have to do
is use them. It's so much easier to respond
to "Bush and his administration are simi-
lar to Hitler and his administration" than it
is to respond to "The vast majority of the
things Bush and his administration said
about Iraq in the buildup to the war have
turned out to be false. Why?"
Come on, LaRouchies: Let's leave the
name-calling to those who don't have the
facts on their side.
Singal can be reached at

The weight of words

still believe in
journalism. If I
have a religion
,>. it is the words I
have faith in, trust-
ing in their power
to expose lies and
undermine injus-
tice. But as my best
friend heads off to
the Naval Academy, I cannot help but
think that journalism has failed him; that
I have failed him.
If a journalist's job is to "comfort the
afflicted and afflict the comfortable,"
these should be the golden years of the
profession - the president and his admin-
istration have provided us, after all, with a
stream of policy decisions and principles
that beg for rebuttal.
Instead, it is journalism itself that
has been exposed, writers as fabrica-
tors, media organizations as political
think tanks, newspapers as irrespon-
sible, unconscionable wastes of trees.
The New York Times tries its hand at
responsible journalism and finds its
reporters imprisoned for failing to
reveal their sources. Partisan pundits
scream unintelligibly at one another
from the television screen, masquerad-
ing as intellectuals and patriots.
This friend of mine is many things
- generous, loyal and patriotic - but he
is not political, and to him the Navy is
an opportunity to fulfill a duty to coun-
try, a duty he believes we all share. Were
the media as courageous he, they would
present the American public with the
facts, an act that would quickly dismiss

the idea of this conflict as a righteous
cause. The truth is that Iraq is a war con-
ceived under the most dubious of circum-
stances, waged without enough troops or
sufficient armor.
I have been a lover of words my whole
life, and it is my jobto express ideas in their
form. But lately, the words do not flow onto
the laptop with the same speed and convic-
tion as the lies I am trying so desperately to
challenge, and I have no idea which viola-
tion of human rights is more worthy of a
column or which scandal more necessary
to investigate and expose.
The true identity of Deep Throat, the
anyonymous source who helped Wash-
ington Post reporters Bob Woodward
and Carl Bernstein bring down the Nixon
administration in 1973, was revealed last
week. While it could have been a refresh-
ing reminder of our responsibility as
journalists to question the status quo, the
media preferred to discuss whether the
men were heroes or traitors.
They missed the point. Watergate is
small fries compared to the lies and scan-
dal that plague today's political arena.
The Bush administration is the scandal,
and everything necessary to undermine
its legitimacy is right in front of our faces
- there is no need for mysterious sources
or porn-star aliases.
Right-wing activist judges are shoved
through the Senate and onto the nation's
highest courts with a ruthless disregard
for minority rights. Education is embar-
rassingly underfunded, millions of Amer-
icans live without health insurance and the
gap between the rich and the poor is ever
widening as corporations are given more

handouts than urban Detroit.
And then there is Iraq. I am outraged
at the war on terror and where it has taken
us. But it is journalism that is supposed
to function as a "fourth estate," a final
check on the powers of government, the
ultimate guardian of the people and their
right to know. And instead of demanding
open and honest debate, the media has
allowed the administration's greatest lie
to pose as a romantic exercise in good-
will, duty and patriotism.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
remindusthat whenjournalismisresponsi-
ble it can do great things. They have provid-
ed the modern media with an opportunity
it cannot afford to pass up: the opportunity
to be ashamed of our gross negligence, our
reverence to political balance over facts,
and our loyalty to the large corporations
that own the media instead of the Ameri-
can people, who need desperately for us to
ask the tough questions.
These are trying times for someone
who believes in the ability of journalism
to change the world one word at a time.
My best friend is leaving for the Naval
Academy at the end of the month. And
while I struggle to understand how he
could entrust his life to the same govern-
ment that brought us the tragedy of Iraq
and all its disturbing vignettes, I need
to be able to trust in journalism more
now than ever before. It has to be strong
enough to challenge the authority that he
must blindly follow, to question the war
that he cannot.
Gay is a Daily editorial board member.
She can be reached at maracl@umich.edu.

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