Investing in War: How Violence Has Turned into a Profitable Business

Violence finds its home most often in some of the poorest places. But money filtrates its way through often gathering in arms businesses and corrupt governments. In recent times, this has been true in many countries throughout Africa and the Middle East. Is the price of death worth it?

Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan. Jenny Rockett. CC BY-SA 1.0.

Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan. Jenny Rockett. CC BY-SA 1.0.

There is a moral question that has surfaced over the years on whether you would have to choose between the death of someone you loved or thousands of strangers. Most of the time it would be frowned upon if you picked one life at the expense of thousands. But not everybody agrees. That moral standard doesn’t translate when power is involved. Too often the death of innocent people is picked for monetary gain. This isn’t just found with governments often associated with corruption but also can be found in US foreign policy and even in the UN. Just look at the Rwandan Genocide and Iraqi War for example. The US tends to only involve itself in conflict in which it has another interest in, often oil or another economic benefit. In Rwanda, the UN actually left the country when violence broke out and only got re-involved once it reached international attention. After the genocide ended, the country got so much foreign aid that its capital city, Kigali, is being recreated as a post-modern enterprise focused solely on appearance and not reality. This pattern has continued throughout many conflicts. It is, quite frankly, the business of war.

 This best current examples of this trend lie in South Sudan and Yemen. The rise of the Arab Spring lead to the intermingling of conflict, with wealthy monarchies fueling and funding neighboring battles. This is seen in both Syria and Libya. The most notable pairing though is the UAE in Yemen. Like most foreign involvement it is motivated by economic gain, namely control of the Red Sea coastline, and military prowess, as presence equals power. The UAE’s influence has led to the risk of starvation for 14 million people and a much more complex civil war. The leaders of militia groups are now benefiting greatly from foreign aid while the gap between rich and poor continues to spread.

 South Sudan follows a similar pattern. The civil war has led to leadership on both sides of line pocketing millions and pursuing private business in real estate acquisitions and capital investments. South Sudan’s economy is completely dependent on oil leading to endless conflict over oil reserves and wealth distribution. The war has left over 5 million in need of aid yet little is being done to stop it. When those in charge get nothing but wealth, why save the people?

 One of the biggest culprits of profiting from war lies in the companies controlling valuable natural resources. Often these companies are foreign owned and operated and give little thought to the violence surrounding it, focusing only on the influx of cash. These goals often coincide with a repressive regime. A study from the World Bank found that if one-fourth of the country's GDP is from primary commodity exports, the possibility of a civil war increases by 30%. Two examples of this are in Columbia and Tibet. Both areas have repressive governments with Tibet under illegal occupation of China. This has allowed for the expansion of foreign interest in mining in both countries, often with little regard to the surrounding area and the people that live there. In Columbia alone, 68% of displacements occurred in mining areas.

As long as money is involved and there are people, governments, and companies benefitting from war and violence, there is little motivation to change. If only we could learn that you don’t need to fight violence with violence, you fight by combatting the wealth of those with power.  

DEVIN O’DONNELL’s interest in travel was cemented by a multi-month trip to East Africa when she was 19. Since then, she has continued to have immersive experiences on multiple continents. Devin has written for a start-up news site and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience.


Degrowth and Christiania – I saw How Copenhagen’s Collective Living Experiment Can Work

Community post office, Freetown Christiania. Helen Jarvis. , Author provided

Community post office, Freetown Christiania. Helen Jarvis. , Author provided

Since the first squatters arrived in 1971, the self-proclaimed Freetown of Christiania has inspired radical thinking and social experimentation. Affectionately described as “loser’s paradise”, the squat became a haven for young people unable to access affordable housing in Copenhagen, and activist pioneers from all over the world.

In July 2012, Christiania struck a deal with the Danish state to “normalise” its status. The change was fraught: after 40 years of illegal occupation, a community of activists fiercely opposed to the idea of private property had to establish a foundation and purchase the entire site, with the exception of some features, which were heritage listed.

The deal enabled Christiania to buy itself free of speculation, as a common resource for everybody and nobody. Today, Christiania receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, making it the most popular tourist destination in Copenhagen after Tivoli Gardens and the statue of The Little Mermaid.

Growth and the good life

It’s considered normal for cities and states to measure success in terms of economic growth. But critics point to the treadmill of addictive consumption, property speculation, long working hours, debt, waste, one-upmanship, fast food and short-lifespan technologies that unending growth sets in motion. Opposing this trend, communities such as Christiania pursue “degrowth” by prioritising human relations over market relations; maximising sharing, togetherness, social justice and the health of the planet.

The pressures to conform with mainstream society can be divisive for the 800 or so residents managing their lives communally in Christiania. Big decisions are made through a decentralised democratic structure: 14 area meetings and a “common meeting” must reach consensus between artists, activists and cannabis dealers on Pusher Street.

A self-built home.  seier+seier/Flickr. ,  CC BY

A self-built home. seier+seier/Flickr., CC BY

In 2012, a minority of residents wanted to be allowed to buy and sell homes that they had built or renovated for themselves. The final deal with the Danish state prevented this. Residents have the right to occupy, but not to buy or sell their homes or businesses. The whimsical variety of domestic architecture that has evolved makes Christiania visibly distinct from surrounding up-market neighbourhoods.

The residents’ resistance

I know from my brief time living in Christiania as researcher in residence in 2010 that degrowth values were practised there long before this term became associated with a broad movement of alternative, ethical and ecological actions.

From the outset, it was the Christiania way to renovate and adapt rather than to tear down existing buildings, and to build with reclaimed materials at minimum costs. This also made it possible to get by on a low income, with reduced hours in paid employment, giving residents a way to resist the earn-to-spend treadmill.

Christiania is known as a place where nothing goes to waste. Numerous craft skills and social enterprises thrive on a culture of making do and mending. Elsewhere in Copenhagen similar local livelihoods fail to flourish under profit maximising conditions. The community has won prizes for comprehensive garbage collection and recycling. The collectively run Green Hall trades in salvaged and repurposed building materials.

Stage made from compressed cardboard for ‘Dancing at the Trasher’, 2010. Helen Jarvis.

Stage made from compressed cardboard for ‘Dancing at the Trasher’, 2010. Helen Jarvis.

Six years on

This summer, Christiania hosts a festival of degrowth, to show that it is ethical and green to resist the burden of conspicuous consumption. The festival coincides with an exhibition of archives on the history of the place, which forms part of the sixth International Degrowth Conference taking place just across the Öresund Bridge in Malmö, Sweden.

Social investment with the Christiania people’s share. Helen Jarvis.

Social investment with the Christiania people’s share. Helen Jarvis.

One example of grassroots degrowth since 2012 is the 12.8m Danish Kroner (£1.5m) raised from a social model of investment: the “People’s Christiania Share”. The scale of this crowdfunding (shares are symbolic and have no financial value) outstrips previous experiments with alternative currency. These include payment of a Christiania wage for community jobs – for example, working in the bakery, gardens, laundry, waste collection or machine hall – which functions much like the degrowth policy of basic income, where everyone is paid a minimum stipend.

By comparison, police estimate the cannabis market on Pusher Street to be worth 635m Danish Kroner (£74m) annually. While social models of investment benefit Christiania, profits from the hash market drive growth and speculation elsewhere. Recognising this conflict, residents chose in May this year to shut down Pusher Street temporarily. Younger residents are driving this shift from individual freedom (to profit from criminal activity) to mutual responsibility (for future generations and the planet). This coincides with broad based support for the recent crackdown on intimidating cannabis markets in Christiania.

The festival of degrowth will introduce visitors to a “village of alternatives”. My research shows that Christiania is an inspirational space to think differently about conventional standards of living, precisely because of the absence of private property. A collective shift in mindset can be achieved here, which would not be possible in neighbourhoods of conventional single family homes.

Making the magic

Yet puzzles remain, when it comes to practising sustainable degrowth at scale. One reason why Christiania’s car-free landscape is so “magical” is that residents live at remarkably low density: at first glance, they seem to live in a public park.

Low-density living.  Shutterstock.

Low-density living. Shutterstock.

While this site might otherwise be expected to accommodate several thousand people in high density social housing, the legal safeguards of the 2012 deal endow Christiania exceptional experimental status. This allows residents to take risks with living creatively on a low income, enjoying close friendships in place of material consumption.

There are lessons here for places where degrowth is dismissed as impossibly Utopian, limited to fringe green debates and reduced goals of “sufficient living standards”. In the UK, state sponsored private property and ownership impose smaller private homes, rather than collective ownership of private and shared spaces.

But from Christiania, we learn that smaller private spaces only benefit sustainable degrowth when combined with collective ownership and generous community space for shared use: people come together to share skills and collectively manage scarce resources to reduce consumption. The hope is that as young green activists gather in Christiania this summer, thousands of visitors will look favourably upon collective living as the new normal.

HELEN JARVIS is a Reader in Social Geography at Newcastle University.


In Turkey, Academia Reckons with Ongoing Effects of Brain Drain

Following a post-coup crackdown by President Erdoğan, the Turkish intelligentsia is under continuous siege.

Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University. Fæ via Wikimedia Commons; originally by SALT Research via Flickr.

Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University. Fæ via Wikimedia Commons; originally by SALT Research via Flickr.

For some professors, the change occurred overnight, and with no warning: One day, they reported to work as usual, taught their classes, and returned home safe and secure. The next, they were met outside the gates of their university by swathes of security guards threatening them with tear gas, who informed them that their careers had been terminated, effective immediately. Such sudden and shocking occurrences reflected the overall timbre of 2017 for Turkish academics—hundreds of whom found themselves purged from their jobs in what they described as an officially sanctioned “intellectual massacre.”

The purge was precipitated by the failed coup of July 2016, which resulted in more than 260 fatalities and spurred President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to declare a three-month state of emergency. During that state of emergency and in the ensuing months, hundreds of academics from more than 20 universities lost their jobs without notice—the result of drastic action by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which chose to detain, arrest, and fire thousands of public-sector workers in various different fields rather than pressing charges on those responsible for the coup attempt.

According to Erdoğan, the responsible party was Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric and former ally who the authorities claim infiltrated supporters into professions all over Turkey as part of a large-scale takeover scheme. Gulen denies having any part in the plan, and many purged academics said they had nothing to do with Gulen’s movement and were unsure how they ended up on the official hit list. Turkey’s Official Gazette describes the banned academics as having “suspected links to terrorist organizations and structures presenting a threat to national security,” but those accused hold a contrasting view: “It is a project to silence all dissident voices within the academy,” Murat Sevinc, who was fired from Ankara University’s Political Science faculty, told Reuters. “The government has seen you can silence 100 academics by firing only one.”

One commonality among many of the academics was their membership in a movement called Academics for Peace, or “Barış için Akademi syenler.” Of the 330 fired in October 2017, 115 had signed an Academics for Peace petition titled “We shall not be a party of crime,” which took a stand against violence in the mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey. The signatories immediately faced demonization in the pro-government media and condemnation by Erdoğan.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. U.S. Department of State.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. U.S. Department of State.

As of March 2017, the total count of purged academics was above 7,300. Those affected were not only deprived of their jobs but also banned from taking other jobs in any public or private institutions, robbed of retirement rights, and even suspended from traveling. Certain universities and departments were particularly hard-hit—for example, the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University, Turkey’s oldest collegiate institution and one comparable in prestige and rigor to France’s Sciences Po. The departments of journalism at Ankara and at Istanbul’s University of Marmara were also decimated. Emre Tansu Keten, a casualty of the purge at Marmara, told Vocal Europe, “I am simply proud to be in the same list along with my senior colleagues who are thrown out because of the opinion they expressed.” Students, though not the primary victims of the situation, were nevertheless left reeling with the realization that their universities were mere shadows of the places at which they had enrolled.

The purges of 2017 were hardly the first shockwave to ripple through Turkey’s academic sector in recent years. In the past few decades, Turkish academic life has frequently been tumultuous, with intellectuals embroiled in military takeovers, secular/religious tensions, and leftist/nationalist battles. Following the start of European Union accession talks in 2004, however, fresh influxes of funding allowed Turkish institutions to construct modern research labs, encouraging students to study in Turkey rather than in the United States or elsewhere in Europe.

That progress, some academics suggest, is now in jeopardy. Following the coup attempt and subsequent crackdown, the trend of intellectuals returning in Turkey took a sharp U-turn, with liberals, secularists, and the intelligentsia fleeing the encroachment of religious nationalism. Between the signing of the Academics for Peace petition in 2016 and the end of 2017, nearly 700 Turkish academics applied to the New York–based organization Scholars at Risk to be relocated to a safer position. Historically, many such applications have been successful: In the five years preceding 2017, approximately 17,000 Turkish nationals came to Britain, 7,000 to Germany, and 5,000 to France.

For academics remaining in Turkey, opportunities for rebuilding their careers are slim, and rewards for their work few and far between. In 2018, the more than 2,000 individuals who make up Academics for Peace finally received recognition in the form of the Courage to Think Defender Award from Scholars at Risk, which applauded the group for their “extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.” Scholars at Risk went on to acknowledge the tenuous state of academic affairs in Turkey, writing, “The nomination is a specific recognition of Academics for Peace’s solidarity work, and at the same time a general recognition of the current pressures on all scholars, students and higher education institutions in and from Turkey.”

Haydarpaşa campus of Marmara University. Fikricoban. CC BY-SA 3.0

Haydarpaşa campus of Marmara University. Fikricoban. CC BY-SA 3.0

On the ground, academics across the country continue to participate in protests, boycotts, and sit-ins at various universities, while a donation fund supports victims of the purge. As of early 2017, Ankara’s “Street Academy” hosted public lectures on Sundays, extending a special invitation to workers and oppressed communities. Funda Şenol Cantek, one of the throngs of fired academics, expressed her defiance to The Advocate: “the government should worry more now that they expand academia to the streets.” Similarly, Sevilay Celenk said of the occasional lectures she holds in public parks, “We took these dismissals as an opportunity to push the limits and bring university together with the streets.”

In June 2019, the body politic of Turkey elected an opposition candidate as mayor of Istanbul, interrupting two decades of control by the AKP. Nevertheless, reported the New York Times, “something about this era under Erdogan has still felt different, more lasting, as if the continuing existence of the A.K.P.’s repressive policies will permanently impair otherwise resilient, historic institutions.” That feeling doubtless stems in part from the uncertain futures facing vast swathes of Turkey’s once-resilient academic sector: As of spring 2019, the legal proceedings concerning 501 members of Academics for Peace remain ongoing. And at the universities, absence is keenly felt. Inside Ankara’s Faculty of Political Science—known as the Mulkiye—walls once plastered with leftist posters are now smattered with a sparse assortment of Turkish flags, the Times described. Certain subjects, such as Foucault and queer theory, have been wiped from the schedule. Master’s and doctoral courses have been canceled, and at the once-lively film society, the showing of films has been banned altogether. Thus, the effects of the purge linger on: in the hallowed halls of universities, in the leafy parks and city streets, and in the hearts and minds of Turkish learners and teachers around the world.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.


VENEZUELA : A Country in Darkness

And why the lights were flickering in the first place.

Venezuelan migrants wait at the Columbian boarder to join the millions who have already fled the country. UNICEF Ecuador. CC2.0

Venezuelan migrants wait at the Columbian boarder to join the millions who have already fled the country. UNICEF Ecuador. CC2.0

The streets are littered with planks of wood and broken glass from storefronts destroyed by looters. The smell of rotting food from useless refrigerators fills the air of the city’s neighborhoods. At the local hospital, groans can be heard from patients in pain without medicine and the dead appear to be multiplying.

This was Venezuela for six days in the lucky towns, and eight days in cities on the edge of the electric grid such as Maracaibo. The city of Maracaibo, about 200 miles west of Caracas, regularly experiences power outages as a result of its high energy consumption and position on the power grid.

The country’s economy has struggled throughout the past few years, and hyperinflation plagues Venezuelans’ day to day lives. Food is often scarce, and basic items such as toiletries can be costly. According to United Nations statistics, three million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 when the economic crisis started to worsen. The blackout highlighted the systemic nature of Venezuela’s problems.

Venezuelans all over the country didn’t just lose power- they also lost the assurances that come under living in a country with rule of law. Storefronts were plundered as food became an even greater concern in a country already going hungry. “The shop owners were trying to defend their stores by opening fire, not to kill, but I think there were many dead,” Omar Chavez, a citizen of Maracaibo, told New York Times. “No one was controlling this mob.”

In Caracas, citizens resorted to drinking the heavily polluted water of the river that runs through the capital. Without electricity, hospitals had problems running equipment and suffered from shortages of medication. Citizens of the oil rich country lined up around blocks waiting for gasoline.

The blackout, while a nightmare for the citizens, has become a political battlefield for the two men who claim to be in charge of the country. Maduro, the unpopular incumbent, was first elected in 2013. In 2014, oil prices plummeted worldwide and Maduro failed to deal with the economic catastrophe that followed. Most of the county wants him out of office; according to a Gallup survey, 3 out of 4 Venezuelans view the government as corrupt. However, last May, Maduro was reelected. Many citizens claimed this election was an obvious fraud and took to the streets in protest.

Enter opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January 2019, Guaidó declared himself interim president on the grounds that the elections were rigged. Guaidó, as leader of the National Assembly, would become interim President if the role of President was vacant. The European Union and most of Latin America recognized Guaidó as the President of Venezuela. President Trump also threw his support behind Guaido, tweeting: “The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime.” The US’ recognition of Juan Guaidó as the interim president led Maduro to call Guadió a Washington puppet intended to undermine Venezuelan sovereignty.

Maduro also claimed the blackout was the result of American cyber sabotage. He called the blackout an “electric war” started by “US imperialism.” But Venezuela has had problems with power since before Maduro came to the presidency. In 2010, Hugo Chavez called an “electricity emergency” after a drought caused water levels at the Guri Dam, a major hydroelectric plant, to fall dangerously low. Localized power cuts are normal, and electricity rationing comes as no surprise to the citizens. Experts say that this blackout was due to a key section of the country's national grid being taken out, possibly by a bush fire. The power system of Venezuela has also suffered from neglect as a result of years of underinvestment in infrastructure. The highest positions at Corpoelec, the state owned power company, are occupied by government loyalists. In reality, the power grid is run by soldiers instead of technicians.

Many skilled engineers have joined the three million Venezuelans who have fled to countries where lunch doesn’t cost a month’s salary. More are due to leave soon, as the power still flickers on and off. According to a Gallup survey, 36% of remaining Venezuelans said they would leave if they could. This number has more than doubled from the 13% who reported they would leave before Maduro took office.

Those who stay will have to deal with the aftermath of the devastating blackout. Pharmacies have few supplies, and grocery store shelves are sparse. In Maracaibo alone, vandals destroyed 562 businesses. Pharmacy owner Marianela Finol spoke to El País after the blackout. He compared the power outage to a natural disaster. “I feel like a tornado has passed,” he remarked. His pharmacy, robbed by a mob of strangers, remains in splinters.

EMILY DHUE is a third year student at the University of Virginia majoring in media. She is currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. She's passionate about writing that makes an impact, and storytelling through digital platforms.

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America’s Public Schools Seldom Bring Rich and Poor Together – and MLK Would Disapprove

America’s public schools were meant to bring together children from all walks of life.  Monkey Business Images/

America’s public schools were meant to bring together children from all walks of life. Monkey Business Images/

Five decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., many carry on his legacy through the struggle for racially integrated schools. Yet as King put it in a 1968 speech, the deeper struggle was “for genuine equality, which means economic equality.” Justice in education would demand not just racially integrated schools, but also economically integrated schools.

The fight for racial integration meant overturning state laws and a century of history – it was an uphill battle from the start. But economic integration should have been easier. In the mid-18th century, when education reformers first made the case for inclusive and taxpayer-supported education, they argued that “common schools” would ease the class differences between children from different backgrounds.

As Horace Mann, the most prominent of these reformers, argued in 1848, such schools would serve to counter the “domination of capital and the servility of labor.” Learning together on common ground, rich and poor would see themselves in common cause – a necessity for the survival of the republic.

More than 150 years later, the nation has yet to realize this vision. In fact, it has been largely forgotten. Modern Americans regularly scrutinize the aims and intentions of the Founding Fathers; but the early designs for public education – outlined by Mann, the first secretary of education in Massachusetts, as well as by leaders like Henry BarnardThaddeus Stevens, and Caleb Mills – are mostly overlooked. Today, the average low-income student in the U.S. attends a school where two-thirds of students are poor. Nearly half of low-income students attend schools with poverty rates of 75 percent or higher.

Education historians, like myself, have generally focused their research and attention on racial segregation, rather than on economic segregation. But as income inequality continues to deepen, the aim of economically integrated schools has never been more relevant. If we are concerned with justice, we must revitalize this original vision of public education.

Shared community

Early advocates of taxpayer-supported common schools argued that public education would promote integration across social classes. They thought it would instill a spirit of shared community and open what Horace Mann called “a wider area over which the social feelings will expand.”

Horace Mann (1796-1859) was an early advocate of public education in the U.S.  Fotolia/AP

Horace Mann (1796-1859) was an early advocate of public education in the U.S. Fotolia/AP

And, generally speaking, it worked. The ultra-rich mostly continued to send their children to private academies. But many middle- and upper-income households began to send their children to public schools. As historians have shown, economically segregated schools did not systematically emerge until the mid-20th century, as a product of exclusionary zoning and discriminatory housing policies. Schools weren’t perfectly integrated by any means, particularly with regard to race. They were, however, vital sites of cross-class interaction.

Many prominent Americans – including U.S. presidents – were products of the public schools. Commonly, they sat side by side in classrooms with people from different walks of life.

But over the past half-century, students have been increasingly likely to go to school with students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Since 1970, residential segregation has increased sharply, with twice as many families now living in either rich or poor neighborhoods – a trend that has been particularly acute in urban areas. And segregation by income is most extreme among families with school-age children. Poor children are increasingly likely to go to school with poor children. Similar economic isolation is true of the middle and affluent classes.

Contemporary Americans commonly accept that their schools will be segregated by social class. Yet the architects of American public education would have viewed such an outcome as a catastrophe. In fact, they might attribute growing economic inequality to the systematic separation of rich and poor. As Horace Mann argued, it was the core mission of public schools to bring different young people together – to consider not just “what one individual or family needs,” but rather “what the whole community needs.”

Many parents do continue seek out diverse schools. A number of school districts have worked to devise student assignment plans that advance the aim of integration. And some charter schools are reaching this market by pursuing what has been called a “diverse-by-design” strategy. As demonstrated by research, diverse schools can and often do improve achievement across a range of social and cognitive outcomes, such as critical thinking, empathy and open-mindedness.

Largely overlooked, however, has been the political benefit of integrated schools. One rarely encounters the once-common argument that the health of American democracy depends on rich and poor attending school together. This is particularly surprising in an age of tremendous disparities in wealth and power. Members of Congress, on average, are 12 times wealthier than the typical American. Moreover, lawmakers are increasingly responsive to the privileged, even at the expense of middle-class voters.

If elites are isolated from their lower- and middle-income peers, they may be less likely to see a relationship of mutual commitment and responsibility to those of lesser means. As scholars Kendra Bischoff and Sean F. Reardon have argued, “If socioeconomic segregation means that more advantaged families do not share social environments and public institutions such as schools, public services, and parks with low-income families, advantaged families may hold back their support for investments in shared resources.”

What can be done?

Today more than 100 school districts or charter school chains work to integrate schools economically. Cambridge, Massachusetts, for instance, has four decades of experience balancing enrollments by social class, seeking to match the diversity of the city as a whole in each school.

This, of course, is only possible in a diverse place. Median family income in Cambridge is roughly US$100,000, while 15 percent of city residents live below the poverty line. It is also made possible through heavy investments in public education in the city. After all, it is far easier to convince middle-class and affluent parents to send their children to the public schools when per-pupil expenditures rival the highest-spending suburbs, as they do in Cambridge.

But not every district has Cambridge’s advantages. Nor does every district have similar political will.

The latter of those two constraints, however, may soon begin to change. Faced with a growing divide between rich and poor, Americans may begin to demand schools that not only serve young people equally from a funding standpoint, but also educate them together in the same classrooms.

Common schools by themselves are not enough to solve the problem of economic inequality. Yet if Americans seek to create a society in which the rich and the poor see themselves in common cause, common schools may be a necessary – and long overdue – step. We must come to see, in the words of Martin Luther King, that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

JACK SCHNEIDER is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


SOUTH AFRICA: Dinner in Khayelitsha

South African apartheid is frequently written off as a memory, something that ended decades ago. But from the start of my visit to South Africa, it became clear that the violence of that period has continued to bleed into the present, manifesting itself in clear racial and economic divides.

I visited Cape Town in the summer of 2016. Cape Town is a city of contrasts—tall, imposing mountains cast shadows over clear blue seas, and seaside villas luxuriate only a few miles away from derelict townships.

These townships are the subject of this piece. Townships in South Africa are villages that remain from apartheid-era forced exoduses of non-white people, cast out of their homes and crammed into segregated areas.

These townships still stand today. They are mostly collections of mottled tin-roof shacks and cramped streets, and they are home to 38% of South Africa’s population of 18.7 million.

From the beginning of my arrival in South Africa, I was told by locals that the townships were unsafe, especially for outsiders. But one day, I returned to my flat in the town of Observatory and one of my roommates asked me if I wanted to visit one.

The visit would be hosted, she told me, by Dine With Khayelitsha, a program founded by four young township residents designed to foster communication between their communities and those outside. Dine With Khayelitsha started in March 2015, as part of a partnership with Denmark and Switerland intended on working as a fundraiser. It then grew and has now hosted over 100 dinners. Each dinner is attended by at least one of the founders, who assures the safe transportation of every participant.

Thanks to this organization, I found myself on a bus driving into one of the townships, and then I was suddenly in a house with a bunch of strangers, eating authentic South African beans and meat.

We arrived at the township’s president’s home, though she was not there—she was outside campaigning, and instead several locals were cooking the meal for the night.

I had come with my new friend, and among the other attendees were two Dutch women, an artist from Germany, a couple from France and Morocco, and a South African black woman. Noticeably absent were white native South Africans, a fact that we asked the hosts about. Apparently, South Africans themselves still persistently ostracize the townships, creating divisions between themselves and the poorer underside of their country.

Our hosts were a few young men from the townships. They had all attended college and one worked in IT and another in software engineering, and most of them also ran after school programs such as leadership and self-esteem workshops for township kids. They had started this organization in an effort to generate more dialogue among South Africans and to raise awareness and reduce stigma concerning the townships.

First, they asked us to discuss one act of kindness we’d performed recently. As night fell, the talk began to flow more easily.  We discussed the fact that so many kids from townships are forced to go through school and university, if they can make it that far, in order to get menial jobs that can support their families. For these kids, following their dreams is not an option, but it is rather an inconceivable luxury. One of the hosts said that he would love to run education programs for kids, but instead he had to become an engineer to support his family.

After dinner, as we were waiting for a bus to come pick us up, I asked one of the men if most people born into townships grow up wanting to escape, to find better lives. He told me that some did, but in his opinion, it is far more important to stay in the townships and to try to create a better life there. That’s what he had done; he’d gotten an education and a job and still lives in the townships, trying to create programs and to help uplift the state of the community.

I talked to another local who was a writer, and his eyes shone as he talked about how he can capture strange and vivid moments with words—and another who spoke passionately about his desire to hear stories from people all around the world. There was an undercurrent of kindness that seemed to link these people together that I have rarely seen; a desire to include others, to tell stories and to share parts of their lives, to not build walls but to rather create open streams of connection. To create rather than to destroy.

Conversations like this one cannot heal or make up for old wounds inflicted upon non-white people in South Africa—only physical reparations and policy changes can truly begin that process. But they are a step in the right direction—a step towards understanding that we are all part of the same global community, and the walls between us are really made of dust.



EDEN ARIELLE GORDON is a writer, musician, and avid traveler. She attends Barnard College in New York.

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Nigeria Replaces India as Home to Most in Extreme Poverty

Extreme poverty is increasingly common in Africa according to a Brookings Institution report.

A snapshot of what poverty means in Nigeria (Source: Daily Trust).

A snapshot of what poverty means in Nigeria (Source: Daily Trust).

Imagine living on $1.90 or less a day, struggling even to access basic necessities. 767 million people in the world fit that description, according to a 2013 survey (the last comprehensive survey on global poverty): 1 in 10 people. The World Bank describes such people as “predominantly rural, young, [and] poorly educated.” For a long time India has been home to the most people living in extreme poverty. But Nigeria is now number one for most people in extreme poverty, according to Brookings Institution, a DC public policy nonprofit.

This change reflects a geographical shift in extreme poverty. Once extremely common in Asia, economic progress has helped to eliminate a significant proportion of extreme poor. The trend in Asia reflects worldwide trends since the 1990s that have seen rates of extreme poverty decrease by more than 60% according to the World Bank. Progress in India also reflects progress with the international Sustainable Development Goals, set in 2016, that seeks to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Since the goals were set in 2016, 83 million have escaped extreme poverty.

However, the progress in India has not been praised by everyone. Some wonder if the reported progress illustrates continued rural distress and worries about job creation in India. Another potential criticism is about what poverty means. For India, a middle-income country based on its per capita income, its poverty line is $3.20 or less per day according to the World Bank. This means poverty is less defined by living on the edge of hunger and more on having an income that can access opportunities of a growing economy, according to a financial editorial in Mint.

Meanwhile, extreme poverty has become the unwelcome status quo in Africa. This is most notable in statistics, calculated through the IMF’s World Economic Outlook and household surveys, provided by the World Poverty Clock. It states as six people enter extreme poverty per minute in Nigeria, 44 leave it in India. More generally, 87 million Nigerians (44% of the population) live in extreme poverty while 70.6 million (around 5% of the population) live in extreme poverty in India.

Further, Nigeria is only a part of the extreme poverty in Africa. Two-thirds of Africans live in a state of extreme poverty and 14 of the 18 countries that have rising numbers of extreme poor are located in Africa. Indeed, on track to be number two for extreme poor is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The theme of poverty in Africa also depicts difficulties in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. When it was implemented in 2016, the pace required to eliminate poverty by 2030 was 1.5 people every second. However as countries have slowed down in eliminating poverty, the actual pace is remarkably less—by 2020 it could be 0.9 people per second. The difference in pace will make it difficult to eliminate poverty by 2030 if not impossible, especially as the required pace to get back on track for the goal is 1.6 people per second.

In spite of the difficulties, eliminating global poverty is a priority for many charitable organizations. One is The Borgen Project, a Seattle nonprofit who hopes to be “an influential ally” for the world’s poor by building “awareness of global issues and innovations in poverty reduction.”  The Borgen Project builds awareness by advocating for poverty-reducing legislation by meeting directly with members of Congress or staff. They also hold members of Congress accountable for blocking poverty-reducing legislation.

The Borgen Project’s success is especially evident in the passing of the 2017 Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act. The Act holds the US accountable for ensuring access to basic education in war-torn and developing countries. Basic education encourages economic growth by equipping people with skills needed to participate in the global marketplace— an important step to reducing poverty.

Another successful organization is international organization Oxfam, which hopes to create “lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social justice.” Oxfam strives to create such systemic change through social justice advocacy of legislation that reduces poverty; disaster response improvements; and public education about the causes of poverty. Oxfam also focuses on programs that educate individuals about their rights or address inequalities in resource accessibility— such as clean water initiatives.

These programs cultivate local partnerships and networks with a focus on “locally informed and locally driven solutions.” For example, after over ten years of working with local communities and government authorities to minimize the impact of disasters on poor people, El Salvador was able to swiftly respond to the October 2011 flood. More importantly, when a village (La Pelota) received unclean drinking water, they asserted their right to clean water by sending it back to the authorities.

Both organizations show work that has been directly done to eliminate poverty. Like other organizations that focus on global poverty, they strive to enforce systemic change by targeting root issues. These include a lack of education— of individuals about their rights as well as the general public, a lack of adequate resources, and a lack of legislation that addresses the poor. Whether it is by 2030 or later, it is possible to imagine a future where extreme poverty does not exist. Many individuals already do.



TERESA NOWALK is a student at the University of Virginia studying anthropology and history. In her free time she loves traveling, volunteering in the Charlottesville community, and listening to other people’s stories. She does not know where her studies will take her, but is certain writing will be a part of whatever the future has in store.

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