Breathing the same air

Last July, Eric Garner was killed by police who choked him as he repeated “I can’t breathe.” He cried out 11 times, but eventually succumbed.

We didn’t need yet another example of police killing a young, unarmed black man. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and way too many more reveal a pervasive inability of some individuals, and more importantly, of our entire legal system to recognize that we all breathe the same air.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program at first seems worlds away from the racism and social injustice of America’s cities. But it too reveals racism and social injustice. It too shows how those in power use that power to oppress even admittedly innocent people. Often, the “crime” was to have a different religion, to wear different clothes, to speak a language other than English, or to be poor. The parallels are disturbing, even without considering how a favored torture technique of the CIA was waterboarding–to deprive people of air.

In the commentary regarding both of these cases I’ve been struck with how little there is about the victims as living, breathing individuals. Those who rightly argue for legal due process for the police or agents involved, talk about mistakes the victims had made, but not about them as people. Some mainstream news coverage does point out a little, that Garner was considered to be an even-tempered, good-natured presence in his community. He was the neighborhood peacemaker. He had asthma and sore feet. And yes, he had run-ins with the police before. But as one neighbor said, “His last penny was your last penny.”  (see “Friends: Man in NYC chokehold case ‘gentle giant’“). Rapidly, however, the real “Eric Garner” vanishes from the discourse as a person and becomes just a term to signal a point of disagreement between factions that seem to have little ability to understand one another.

In the last chapter of her 1902 book, Democracy and Social Ethics, Jane Addams writes about racism and corruption of a century ago, and the consequent need for political reform. Her examples draw on the glaring disparities in wealth of the Gilded Age, which are unfortunately being reproduced today.

Addams talks about the “honest absence of class consciousness” among the immigrants she worked with. That absence supported their faith in American democracy. They were taught ideals for “honorable dealing and careful living. They were told that the career of the self-made man was open to every American boy, if he worked hard and saved his money, improved his mind, and followed a steady ambition. [sic]”

Addams then recalls an anecdote from her childhood: “the village schoolmaster told his little flock, without any mitigating clauses, that Jay Gould had laid the foundation of his colossal fortune by always saving bits of string . . . as a result, every child in the village assiduously collected party-colored balls of twine.” In this way, children failed to learn that “the path which leads to riches and success, to civic prominence and honor, is the path of political corruption.” The end result was that every citizen participated in that corruption, even those who suffered from it. Her statement of this shared responsibility still holds today:

This is the penalty of a democracy,–that we are bound to move forward or retrograde together. None of us can stand aside; our feet are mired in the same soil, and our lungs breathe the same air.

The penalty that Addams describes is also the basis for making a democracy possible. Ethics cannot be limited to the individual virtues, such as honesty, courage, or duty, but must encompass social relations as well, the social ethics of her book’s title. That idea is expressed well in an essay she had written a few years earlier, called “A Modern Lear.” It’s about the railroad czar George Pullman:

Our thoughts . . .cannot be too much directed from mutual relationships and responsibilities. They will be warped, unless we look all men in the face, as if a community of interests lay between. . .To touch to vibrating response the noble fibre in each man, to pull these many fibres, fragile, impalpable and constantly breaking, as they are, into one impulse, to develop that mere impulse through its feeble and tentative stages into action, is no easy task, but lateral progress is impossible without it.

Addams knew that democracy was a hollow ideal without social ethics. So, it’s depressing to realize that the inequities of wealth, the racism, and the corruption of her day are still with us, and in some ways have become worse. Our social ethics appears piecemeal and ephemeral. At times the “mere impulse” seems nonexistent.

Can those who defend the CIA or the all-too-common official homicides imagine how they would feel if their own child, lover, or best friend were subjected to the same treatment? Could we instead see every person as a citizen who shares in a community of interests, regardless of race, religion, or official papers? What would it take to recognize the humanity in every one of us?

I’m reminded of the ending of “Salute to Life” by Pablo Casals:

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you. And look at your body–what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work–we all must work–to make this world worthy of its children.

Living archaeology

Alexandria Troas restoration

Alexandria Troas restoration

In many localities there are ancient sites one can visit. But often, these are removed from contemporary life, not only by time, but also by place. They seem to stand apart.

For example, in Illinois, Cahokia Mounds is a fascinating site to visit. It tells the story of people who settled Illinois over 1000 years ago, and created one of the great cities of the world. However, the threads connecting Cahokia to 21st C Illinois seem very thin. The site is interesting in large part because it seems like it’s from another world. Most of the links from the Mississippian and other cultures to present-day life in Illinois have been erased or forgotten.

In Turkey, however, archaeological sites seem to merge with current life. There are more here than anyone could ever visit, or even count. Ruins spill out of the official ticketed sites into the village and countryside. Modern houses are built of the same stone, and embedded in the same rocks that influenced the ancient structures. Farmers plant and harvest in the same fields, often on top of buried ruins from two or three millennia ago. Modern excavations proceed alongside contemporary uses of the same rocks or even structures.

Apollon Smintheion

Apollon Smintheion

More importantly, there are ties in language and culture to the earlier Cretan, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and other cultures. Places have names revealing their history, and sometimes multiple names, e.g., Assos / Behramkale / Behram, for their different ties. Customs in food and dress have strong connections that are understood by locals, in a way that one would have trouble finding between Mississippian and modern-day Illinoisans.

An implication of this for the traveler is that archaeological sites exist in an array of states, but all with tangible links to the present. Some are fully excavated and interpreted, while others are submerged into the landscape. Some are outside of present-day settlements, but many are embedded within or under the present day town. Many manifest not just a single culture, but a series, for example an early settlement that became a Hellenistic temple, then later Roman baths and administrative center, then a Byzantine development, with continuing use to the present. This makes the sites seem alive and connected to our life today in a way that sites elsewhere are often fascinating, but removed as in a science fiction story about a strange foreign world.

European stinging nettle

European stinging nettle

The site for Alexandria Troas is one of the largest in Turkey, nearly 1000 acres. But it’s still being excavated and most of it appears first just as some strange rocks sticking up among the vallonea oaks. The site spreads nearby, but partly within and underneath today’s town of Dalyan, Çanakkale. It’s not hard to imagine that some of the farming practices of today in that region were common two millennia ago.

Walking and clambering about the site in my sandals, I found the ısırgan otu (stinging nettle) that undoubtedly plagued early walkers in sandals. They probably enjoyed eating them as much as other modern diners and I do.

About 23 miles south by road is Appollon Sminteionin, whcih was built in the 2nd C BC city of Khrysa (present-day Gülpınar, Çanakkale). When Cretan colonists came to the area, they consulted an oracle regarding where to settle. The oracle told them to settle where ‘the sons of the earth’ attacked them. One morning they awoke and found mice chewing their equipment. They decided to stay there and built a temple dedicated to Smintheion, Lord of the Mice and to Apollo.

Sminthean Apollo is mentioned in the Iliad, Book 1:

Agamemnon had dishonoured the god’s priest,
Chryses, who’d come to the ships to find his daughter,
Chryseis, bringing with him a huge ransom.

Displeased, Agamemnon dismissed Chryses roughly

Chryses then prayed to Appollon Smintheionin:

“God with the silver bow,
protector of Chryse, sacred Cilla,
mighty lord of Tenedos, Sminthean Apollo,
hear my prayer: If I’ve ever pleased you
with a holy shrine, or burned bones for you—
bulls and goats well wrapped in fat—
grant me my prayer. Force the Danaans
to pay full price for my tears with your arrows.”

Assos Temple of Athena

Assos Temple of Athena

There is a walkway at the Appollon Smintheion site, which may have connected it with Alexandria Troas, just as the modern towns link today. There are no wheel ruts in the stone, which suggests that ancient people walked to and from the site.

Not much further on, Assos is one of the most impressive, and surely most photographed, of the many sites in the area. I cringe to think of how many people will fall off the edge seeking the perfect selfie.

Assos is a site that exemplifies the idea of continuous settlement and sedimentation of cultures. Modern boutique hotels and shops are built into the rocks and with rocks just as the ancient structures were. There is an old, though not as old as Assos, cami (mosque) built of stone and standing at the entrance. Although the fenced area of the site is huge, structures and rock piles spill over the edges such that it’s not clear which are archaeological treasures, which are functional structures for today, and which are construction debris.

The Assos habitation traces back to the Bronze Age, with city life from 7C BC onwards without interruption. Aristotle wrote his Politics during his three-year stay here. The missionary, St. Paul, would walk to here from Troas, 20 miles aways. Its easy to envision shepherd throughout this time guiding their sheep and goats among the rock strewn hillsides, much as they do today.

Beyond the physical though, what’s most telling about the connection to the past is the way people talk. For example, many say that local foods, dress, personal names, and even ways of socializing on Turkey’s Aegean coast can be traced directly to its Hellenistic heritage. The many other civilizations in its story have similarly shaped the rich culture.

Youth community inquiry: New media for community and personal growth

Youth community inquiry: New media for community and personal growthYouth Community Inquiry offers a detailed look at how young people use new media to help their communities thrive. Chapters address questions about learning, digital technology, and community engagement through the theory of community inquiry. The settings range from a small farming town, to a mostly immigrant community, to inner-city Chicago, and include youth from ages eight to 20.
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This may be a big mistake, but I’m now learning about udderbots.

This coming Friday at 8 pm there’ll be the “World’s First Udderbot Recital” at the UC Independent Media Center in Urbana. But here and now are some samples: “Queen of the Nite” and “kleismic joy”.

Jacob Barton is a co-inventor of the udderbot, and undoubtedly its greatest virtuoso. He’s now an Americorps worker at the IMC, who earlier studied composition and performed on the udderbot at Rice University, my alma mater. There’s a feature article with photos in the News-Gazette today, and you can also read about it on the udderbot wiki [photo from the wiki].

Flying Fortresses over Urbana

I thought I saw a B-17 bomber, a “Flying Fortress,” flying low over our house while I was outside talking to my sister Susan! But I was afraid to admit it, thinking I might be taken away for observation. Maybe I could chalk it up to bad eyesight.

But it turns out that one has been visiting the area this weekend: Authentic B-17 brings nostalgia to Champaign, Daily Illini, July 9, 2010

They quit making them shortly before I was born, probably because they knew it was too small inside for people over six feet tall.

Is it good to synchronize traffic signals?

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission hopes to apply for a $1.94 million federal grant to coordinate the traffic signals at dozens of intersections in the community, covering major corridors such as Neil Street and Prospect, University, Bradley, Mattis and Florida/Kirby avenues.

Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study…says the proposed “traffic signal energy efficiency and conservation strategy” could reduce the typical motorist’s annual travel times by 20 to 50 percent, cut fuel consumption by 14 percent and reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide emissions by 13.3 percent.

via The Re-timing of traffic signals could be first stage in overhaul.

Champaign_Illinois_20080301_4107Saving energy, reducing pollution, reducing travel time, all sound good. But synchronized signals along University Avenue may have an insidious consequence.

It’s already the case that University Avenue marks and maintains racial divisions in the cities of Champaign and Urbana. Some people south of University, especially whites, view “north of University” as an area they don’t want to be in. And some blacks north of University may view south of University as an unwelcoming place. The busy traffic corridor with miserable access for pedestrians reinforces the view that these two domains are separate, and necessarily so.

As an already busy traffic corridor, University Avenue makes it difficult for alert, athletic adults to cross from one area of town to another on foot or bicycle. It’s positively unsafe for children or anyone without well-honed defensive faculties. Drivers already go too fast and are inattentive to pedestrians and cyclists. This could become worse with synchronization.

Could the street become safer with synchronization? Maybe. But I doubt that will happen if the only concerns considered are overall vehicular traffic flow.

I’m not sure in the final analysis whether the proposed changes should be done or not, but I do believe that we’d be better off if we were to understand better the symbolic and material consequences of slashing through our community.

Governor’s Home Town Award for UC Books To Prisoners!

UC Books To Prisoners – a project of the UCIMC (B2P) is based in Urbana, Illinois. B2P mails books to Illinois inmates at no cost to them and operates lending libraries in the two local county jails.

guv_mansionB2P has just been awarded a Governor’s Home Town Award (for volunteerism).  The award makes B2P eligible for the Governor’s Cup, a traveling silver trophy signifying the project deemed most representative of the spirit of Illinois volunteerism. The award will be presented at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield on October 29. At that time, we’ll learn what level of award B2P has received.

Books to Prisoners has also received a Social Justice grant from the Illinois Disciples Foundation, with a press conference on October 1, and an honorable mention from the McKinley Foundation Social Justice Awards.


What do Boston & Cambridge have to say to Champaign Unit 4?

violin_may06Ann Abbott inspired me to say more about the connections between the Boston desegregation experience in my last post and that of Champaign Unit 4.

I’d have to say that Boston is a good example of how not to do it. As I said in that post, Judge Garrity made the correct, and only legally justifiable decision, but rulings alone cannot accomplish much if there is widespread resistance, especially from political and religious leaders, school officials, and media. The racism thwarted integration of the schools, and in the process did major damage to the school system and to Boston as a civilized city.

In contrast, just across the Charles River, Cambridge managed relatively successful desegregation during the same period. Cambridge adopted a “freedom of choice” or “controlled open enrollment” desegregation plan in 1981. Parents would specify a list of  the schools they wanted their children to attend. Their preferences were followed as long as explicit desegregation controls could be maintained. There were no guarantees of attending any particular school.

Graham_parksBecause the program was coupled with interesting magnet programs at every school, there were many viable options for families. As parents we almost welcomed the fact that we didn’t have to make the final choice between the Maynard School’s dual language (two-way Spanish-English bilingual) program, Tobin’s School of the Future, with innovative uses new technologies, the Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, with its open education plan (see mural above), or the closer by Peabody, Fitzgerald, or Lincoln schools, each with things to recommend it. It helped that Cambridge did not have the urban sprawl of midwestern cities, which meant that unlike Champaign, Cambridge offered several schools within walking distance.

Although not without its problems, this plan was effective in substantially desegregating Cambridge schools, and maintained public support and involvement with the public schools. It’s not surprising then that Robert Peterkin, Superintendent, was called in as a consultant on the similar plan in Champaign. The story in Champaign is still unfolding (as it is in Cambridge and Boston as well). But if I had to draw lessons today from these three experiences, I’d say that it’s essential for Champaign residents today to avoid the disastrous path of resistance that Boston experienced

champaignThe Champaign school district has been struggling to address concerns such as too many black students in special education and discipline referrals; too few in gifted and honors classes; and black students being bused out of their neighborhoods. Responses such as denying the problems or siting new schools outside of black communities (though still technically north side) remind me of Boston’s response. Everyone would benefit if the school system and residents were to embrace not only the technical details of the Cambridge (or similar) plan, but also the spirit that saw how desegregation could enrich the learning for all.