An Interview with St. Rose (NY) Professor, Bradley Russell
Daniel J. Kelly
In late September, 2014, something happened at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY that hasn't happened often enough in recent years. Eighty percent of the approximately 300 adjunct professors at the private, liberal arts college turned out to vote to unionize. When the results were tallied the professors had voted by a margin of 175 to 61 to join Local 200 United of the Service Employees International Union. Local 200 is part of S.E.I.U's Adjunct Action, a nationwide project to organize adjunct professors. As many of our readers will know, the adjunct professor phenomenon is just another neoliberal strategy to disempower the workforce. By a policy of no benefits, no job security, and no raises the employing class atomizes another subset of workers. In other words, if they can fool them into thinking they're independent contractors they will be less inclined to act collectively to secure power in the workplace. This has been part of the neoliberal agenda for nearly forty years and for much of that time that agenda has worked, but not at the College of Saint Rose in 2014. To get a better idea of how this unionization process unfolded, I met with Dr. Bradley Russell on Oct 2nd of this year. Dr. Russell was the chief instigator of this organizing campaign and the organizer who, along with help from S.E.I.U., pushed it to a successful outcome. Bradley Russell is a man in his early forties with a strong personality. He earned a PhD in anthropology, with a concentration in archeology, from the State University of New York about a decade ago; his dissertation focused on the importance of Mayan incense burners. He has taught for several years as an adjunct professor at St. Rose where he also teaches a class called "Creating Social Justice." As a husband and, father of an elementary school age child, he has a personal interest in improving the working conditions of the adjunct community. He has also made a name for himself locally as an activist; (full disclosure: Russell and I met when we were both participating in the Occupy Albany movement in 2011 and I have since been a guest speaker in his "Social Justice" class).
Activism and Ableism
A Discussion with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) are led by disabled people. We welcome all disabled people and non disabled allies to join us. We have an outreach of over 50,000 supporters. We work with lots of other groups, these can be grass root anti-cut groups, identity groups, trade unions-the main aim is equality and human rights for disabled people. But any form of inequality or injustice for any group is wrong and should always be challenged. Since 2010 in the UK we have seen inequality and injustice increase to outrageous levels. This has contributed to an estimated 32 deaths of disabled people per week due to a reorganisation of welfare. The Government call it welfare reform and 'savings', but what we are seeing are cuts that remove even the basic support from people leaving them without food, heat or dignity. This costs lives. We started with a slogan: 'Cuts Kill'. It is heartbreaking to find 4 years down the line that that slogan has become an everyday reality for disabled people. DPAC are mainly known for their direct actions and occupations. DPAC block major roads, occupy Government buildings and areas to draw attention to what is happening to disabled people in the UK. We are seeing a wholesale attack on disabled people's equality, support, independence and lives that is unprecedented-we have to fight it! As well as direct actions, we do targeted social media campaigns; we support legal challenges, instigate legal challenges, conduct critical research, and are in demand as speakers at events. We have an international outreach working with groups in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia etc. Many internationally are seeing welfare and democratic justice reorganised on the basis of the model used by our Government. The UK was once recognised as an example of good disability policies and progress towards the equality of disabled people- it is now an example of how fast that progress can be decimated and removed. In the UK all improvements that disabled people have fought for decades are being reversed. Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) was set up in 2010 by disabled people. We were originally a small group called...
Imperialist Feminism and Liberalism
In a recent CNN interview, religion scholar Reza Aslan was asked by journalist Alisyn Camerota if Islam is violent given the "primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities." Aslan responded by stating that the conditions for women in Muslim majority countries vary. While women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in various Muslim majority countries, women have been elected heads of states 7 times. But, before he could finish his sentence pointing out that the US is yet to elect a woman as president, he was interrupted by co-host Don Lemon who declared: "Be honest though, Reza, for the most part it is not a free and open society for women in those states." How is it that people like Camerota and Lemon, who very likely have never travelled to "free and open" Turkey, Lebanon or Bangladesh, or read the scholarship on women's rights struggles in Morocco, Iran and Egypt, seem to know with complete certainty that women are treated "primitively" in "Muslim countries"? On what basis does Lemon believe that he has the authority to call Aslan out for supposed dishonesty? How is it that with little or no empirical evidence on women's rights in Muslim majority countries (which vary widely based on country, regions with a country, social class, the history and nature of national liberations movements, the part played by Islam in political movements etc.) Western commentators routinely make such proclamations about women and Islam? The answer lies in a ubiquitous, taken-for-granted ideological framework that has been developed over two centuries in the West.
The Shackles Return
The debtors' prison is an old, decrepit institution that many thought was abolished in the 19th century, something little more than a relic of the past. This is a problematic view for two reasons. One, debtors' prisons are rarely explored in the classroom or the larger society. And two, these prisons are making a serious comeback in the United States, which is deeply concerning for the poor and working class. The traditional view of debtors' prisons in the U.S. is one of wretched incarceration where debtors were hung out to dry. While this is true, there is also more to the story. In early colonial America, English law had an influence on colonial law - and laws regarding debt. In 16th century England, creditors had the legal power via the Law of Merchant to regain their money from insolvent debtors. They had this same power in Pennsylvania where, in 1682, the law stated that anyone who was in debt and had been arrested would be kept in prison, or "the debtor [could] satisfy the debt by servitude as the county court shall order, if the creditor desires." While debt servitude was problematic, it provided a way for a debtor to obtain eventual release. The situation was worse in Massachusetts, which ruled in 1638 that "delinquent taxpayers be jailed, but provided that the Council or any court within Massachusetts could free the prisoner if it found him incapable of paying his taxes." However, as early as the next year, private debtors were being imprisoned as well, and in 1641 the courts ruled that "anyone who failed to pay a private debt could be kept in jail at his own expense until the debt was paid."