For 27-Time Hopi High Cross-Country Champs, Running Is Tradition

Rick Baker runs the cross-country program at Arizona’s Hopi High School, and he is one of the most successful coaches in sports—period. His runners have won 27 consecutive state cross-country titles in a row. Winning is great, of course—it’s a source of pride for Baker, his runners and the Hopi community. But he has a bigger mission: keeping running alive and making sure every generation is aware of its significance to the Hopi tribe. Running isn’t simply a sport for the Hopi people. It’s a tradition with deep spiritual purpose. For centuries, Hopi runners carried messages to distant villages, and they ran to springs to deliver prayers to bring rain. The young athletes Baker coaches run on the very same dusty trails their ancestors blazed in northeastern Arizona. Baker ensures his runners are aware of their history, and he encourages them to embrace their brotherhood. That’s the kind of leadership every team needs.

For Young Refugees, a Mobile Phone can be as Important as Food and Water When Arriving in a New Country

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Between 2015 and 2018, more than 200,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe. Many of these young people, now in the EU, have one thing in common: their smart phones.

Digital tools are not only a means to keep in touch with friends and family. They can also become a lifeline for refugees and unaccompanied minors, according to a recent report, becoming as essential as food, water and shelter. But for many of these unaccompanied young children, out-of-date kit, lack of access to digital technologies and expensive mobile broadband packages can all act as barriers to being able to live in a digital environment.

Similarly, levels of literacy, can also significantly hinder technological development. And without structured educational provision, many young refugees can also struggle because of poor IT skills.

As researchers based in the UK and Hungary, we decided we wanted to help. And what began as a chance conversation at a conference in Prague, is now a major research project. The main aim of our two-year-long media literacy project was to understand how unaccompanied young refugees use digital technologies and social media.

We wanted to find out whether these technologies can help to foster successful integration. The fieldwork was carried out in four European countries with a high share of unaccompanied minors among asylum-seekers: Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

EU Calling

Our project involved interviews with 56 refugees, age 14-19, as well as their carers, mentors and educators. We met and observed the young people in their homes and community centres. We also carried out “digital ethnography” –- a type of online “audit” – on Facebook, with some of the children.

We found that young refugees can become easily lost when trying to access the digital world, needing multiple skills and tools to integrate successfully into a highly networked culture. The plethora of service providers, social media platforms and devices can be intimidating at first, but we were astonished at how quickly some of the young people we worked with were able to finds ways to negotiate their new digital circumstances – often after leaving war-torn countries.

A phone can be a lifeline for unaccompanied minors.  Shutterstock/Marian Fil

A phone can be a lifeline for unaccompanied minors. Shutterstock/Marian Fil

From using translating apps, to communicate with locals, to downloading music from their own countries, some of these young people learned very rapidly how these tools work. That said, this was not the case for the majority of unaccompanied young people.

And for many, mentors or guardians were often the first point of aid when it came to problems encountered online. Older refugee children who have perhaps been in the new host country for some time – or have more familiarity with digital technologies – were also found to be key in helping new and arriving young people to better understand the digital world.

Digital navigation

We also found that many of the young people did not think too critically about their online experiences. And in an era of “fake news” they may be ushered into making poor judgements on what information to trust, and which opinions to follow. So for this reason we created an app called Media+Mentor specifically for mentors or educators who work with unaccompanied refugee youth.

The idea is that the Media+Mentor app will bring mentors and carers together. The app will also point users to further resources, support and advice on the most common issues unaccompanied minors face online – such as fake news, cyberbullying or hate speech.

From our findings, it’s clear that media literacy education is essential for these young people and their mentors. Indeed, for any teenager in the EU, popular apps and platforms are useful resources for learning new things, finding relevant information or simply as a way to connect with other young people. But as a refugee in a new country it can be hard to know how to access such help.

And these children are not just crossing physical borders, but are shifting into the heightened technological spaces that all EU youth probably take for granted. It has been estimated, for example, that 83% of young people across the EU use their smart phones to access the internet – and generally use fairly up-to-date kit.

So we hope that our research could help to provide young refugee people with the skills needed to stay safe and thrive – not only in the online world, but also in a new country where they are building new lives.

ANNAMARIA NEAG is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Bournemouth University.

RICHARD BERGER is an Associate Professor, Head of Research and Professional Practice, Department of Media Production, Bournemouth University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

What the US Could Learn from Thailand about Health Care Coverage

Newborn babies in a Bangkok hospital on Dec. 28, 2017.They are wearing dog costumes to observe the New Year of the dog.  Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Newborn babies in a Bangkok hospital on Dec. 28, 2017.They are wearing dog costumes to observe the New Year of the dog. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) draws to a close on Dec. 15. Yet, recent assaults on the ACA by the Trump administration stand in marked contrast to efforts to expand access to health care and medicine in the rest of the world. In fact, on Dec. 12, the world observed Universal Coverage Day, a day celebrated by the United Nations to commemorate passage of a momentous, unanimous U.N. General Assembly resolution in support of universal health coverage in 2012.

While the U.N. measure was nonbinding and did not commit U.N. member states to adopt universal health care, many global health experts viewed it as an achievement of extraordinary symbolic importance, as it drew attention to the importance of providing access to quality health care services, medicines and financial protection for all.

Co-sponsored by 90 member states, the declaration shined a light on the profound effect that expansion of health care coverage has had on the lives of ordinary people in parts of the world with far fewer resources than the U.S., including Thailand, Mexico and Ghana. Can the U.S. learn anything from these countries’ efforts?

US and Thailand: A study in contrasts

I came to understand these changes as I researched and wrote my book, “Achieving Access: Professional Movements and the Politics of Health Universalism.” The book offers a comparative and historical take on the politics of universal health care and AIDS treatment, featuring Thailand as the primary case. For me, Thailand’s remarkable achievements also put into perspective some of the work we still have to do here in the United States with respect to health reform.

Before the reform, Thailand had four different state health insurance schemes, which collectively covered about 70 percent of the population. The reform in 2002 consolidated two of those programs and extended coverage to everyone who did not already receive coverage through the country’s health insurance programs for civil servants and formal sector workers.

Thailand’s universal coverage policy contributed to rising life expectancy, decreased mortality among infants and children, and a leveling of the historical health disparities between rich and poor regions of the country. The number of people being impoverished by health care payments also declined dramatically, particularly among the poor.

However, Thailand’s reform had other important consequences that aimed to make the reform sustainable as well. Sensible financing and gatekeeping arrangements – that tied patients to a medical home near where they lived and provided fixed annual payments for physicians to cover outpatient care – were instituted to curb the kind of cost escalation that has historically been a hallmark of the United States (though it has slowed lately). The reform also improved the quality of care for patients in remote areas by mandating that qualified providers in community hospitals collaborate more extensively with rural health centers.

A computer screen promoting this year’s open enrollment, which will run 45 days. In years past, open enrollment continued for months.  Ricky Kresslein/Shutterstock.com

A computer screen promoting this year’s open enrollment, which will run 45 days. In years past, open enrollment continued for months. Ricky Kresslein/Shutterstock.com

The United States, by contrast, seems to be moving in the opposite direction, both in terms of insurance coverage and health outcomes. Although recent Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were narrowly defeated, lawsuits that aim to terminate popular pre-existing conditions protections continue. In addition, the Trump administration has sought to weaken the reform in other ways: including by cutting the open enrollment periods, which ends Dec. 15 and lasts 45 days; cutting outreach and advertising for open enrollment; and threatening to suspend risk adjustment payments to private insurers, which help to stabilize the market.

Moreover, effective repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate through a provision in the 2017 Tax Reconciliation Act that reduces the penalty for not having insurance to zero in 2019 will have the effect of reducing the number of insured. This will have an effect on health insurance markets, likely reducing the number of younger and healthier people that help give balance to health insurance risk pools and that help keep overall costs down. And without the financial protection afforded by health insurance, those who are uninsured may face rising rates of medical bankruptcy, to say nothing for the loss of access to sorely needed medical care.

Learning from Thailand

To be sure, the Thai and American contexts are very, very different. While health spending stands at around 4 percent of GDP in Thailand, in America nearly 20 percent, or one-fifth, of the country’s total economic output is spent on health. Yet, in some ways, that makes Thailand’s achievement all the more remarkable. And while no program is perfect, Thailand’s reform is one of the reasons that health costs in Thailand have remained so low, despite such a dramatic increase in coverage.

The use of generic drugs in Thailand is a strategy to keep costs low.  Room's Studio/Shutterstock.com

The use of generic drugs in Thailand is a strategy to keep costs low. Room's Studio/Shutterstock.com

Reformers also drew on other innovative policy instruments to keep costs down, including the Government Pharmaceutical Organization that produces generic medication for the universal coverage program and the use of compulsory licenses, which allow governments to produce or import generic versions of patented medication under WTO law.

The Affordable Care Act similarly sought to improve access, while curbing costs. Some of the most important mechanisms to curb costs fell victim to the legislative process however. Most notably, lobbyists succeeded in killing the “public option,” a government (as opposed to private) health insurer with much lower administrative costs that aimed to bring costs down among private health insurers through competition with them.

Although the reform in Thailand was popular among the masses, it also saw its share of detractors. Medical associations that represented doctors who saw the policy as a threat came out against it. Likewise, beneficiaries of the existing programs for civil servants and employees of large, tax-paying businesses feared that their own benefits would be diluted by a new single payer program. Despite progress expanding access to everyone, the new program introduced in 2002 still sits alongside separate programs for civil servants and employees of large, tax-paying businesses.

What the contrast makes clear, however, is that reforms done properly can expand access while at the same time instituting measures that help to contain costs. The U.S., in my view, should pursue similarly creative and constructive reforms that seek to do both.

What does that look like in the United States? To me, that means preserving the ACA’s individual mandate and protections related to pre-existing conditions; creating (or expanding) a public insurer like Medicare to compete alongside private insurers and keep costs down; addressing the lack of price transparency in our nation’s hospitals; and actively negotiating with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to bring costs of drugs and health care down for millions.

Done sensibly, developing nations like Thailand are proving that they do not have to join the ranks of the world’s wealthiest nations for their citizens to enjoy access to health care and medicine. Using evidence-based decision-making, even expensive benefits, like dialysis, heart surgery and chemotherapy, need not remain out of reach. Policymakers in all countries can institute reforms using tools that promote cost savings at the same time they improve access and equity.

While efforts to implement universal coverage are not without challenges, these results suggest that leaders in Congress would do well to learn from countries like Thailand as they chart a fiscally responsible path forward on health care.

JOSEPH HARRIS is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION



In the Slovenian Alps, an Island on an Emerald Lake Beckons

Just over 30 miles northwest of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, you’ll find an alpine lake that looks straight out of a fairytale. With a cliff-side castle, an emerald green, fresh water lake and some of the best views of the Julian Alps, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Lake Bled and its island church for a storybook cover. And as you cross the lake in a traditional wooden boat, learn the legend of the bell that lies below these emerald green waters.

‘Climigration’: When Communities Must Move Because of Climate Change

Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation.  srv007/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC

Flood damage in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 2013. Most communities are at some risk from extreme events, but repeated disasters raise the question of relocation. srv007/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Climate change increasingly threatens communities all over the world. News of fires, floods and coastal erosion devastating lives and livelihoods seems almost constant. The latest fires in Queensland and New South Wales mark the start of the earliest bushfire season the states have ever seen.

What happens when climate change causes extreme events to become chronic, potentially rendering some communities unviable? This question is fuelling a new strand of global research focused on “climigration”. Climigration is the planned relocation of entire communities to new locations further from harm. And it has already begun.

It takes a lot to convince a community to move. But extreme events disrupt communities socially, economically and physically. Buildings and infrastructure are damaged, as are community cohesion and morale. Lives may be lost; many others are changed forever.

When extreme events disrupt communities, responses usually occur in one of two ways. We can try to repair damage and continue as before, which is known as resilience. Or we try to repair and fortify against future damage in a process of adaptation. Climigration is an extreme form of climate change adaptation,

This article draws on our recently published research, which investigated how land-use and strategic planning frameworks can prepare for climigration.

From imagination to reality

Climigration is no longer a concern for the future; it is a challenge today. The notion of strategically relocating entire communities has quickly moved from imagination to reality.

For instance, in 2016 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided US$1 billion to help communities adapt to climate change in 13 states. The grants included the first direct allocation of federal funding to move an entire community.

Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is the first US community to undergo federally sanctioned climigration. The move has been forced by the loss of coastal land to rising seas and storm surges. Last December, the state bought land at residents’ preferred site to develop their new community.

Property damaged by extreme weather and later abandoned on Isle De Jean Charles.  Maitri/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC-SA

Property damaged by extreme weather and later abandoned on Isle De Jean Charles. Maitri/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Climigration options were previously considered in Alaska. Climate-induced coastal erosion has threatened the viability of the village of Newtok for many years. Its residents voted in 2003 to relocate to higher ground but the relocation looks unlikely to be completed before 2023.

In Australia, more than 100 households in Grantham, Queensland, were relocated to higher ground with government assistance after devastating floods caused by an exceptionally strong La Niña in 2011.

Critical factors in climigration

Climigration is, of course, not a phenomenon restricted to the US and Australia. It is a growing concern for many countries.

Our research sought to establish a framework for effective climigration planning. We systematically reviewed international case studies of community relocations undertaken because of environmental hazards. As part of this we developed a hierarchy of influencing factors in planning for climigration.

We found that the degree to which a community agrees on the need to relocate is a crucial influence. Consensus generates social capital, which supports action and improves the prospects of successful outcomes.

Perception of the timing and severity of risks is another critical factor. Immediate, obvious risks are more likely to motivate action. Motivation can be low if risks are seen as a problem for the distant future, even if impacts may eventually be devastating.

Political, economic and logistical support from government moderately influences the success of community relocation. Relocation may still occur without government support, but this is not preferable and the chances of success are lower.

Strong local leadership can improve the capacity of communities to face the reality of relocation and then to resettle. Strategic leadership from outside agencies is a complement to local leadership, not a substitute.

How to plan successfully for climigration

Strategic and land-use planning systems will be central public agencies in many climigration cases.

Planners already have relevant skills and training. These include community consultation, mediation and stakeholder engagement. Planners can coordinate land acquisition and development applications. They can provide temporary housing, infrastructure and transportation.

Planning for climigration also requires other professional input, including disaster management, social psychology and engineering.

Strategic planning for climigration should begin as early as possible. Vulnerable communities can be identified using risk mapping.

Residents of bushfire-prone areas that become impossible to defend might have to consider moving. Dean Lewins/AAP

Residents of bushfire-prone areas that become impossible to defend might have to consider moving. Dean Lewins/AAP

Alternative sites can then be shortlisted and potential logistical demands identified.

Securing land for relocation may place planners in the middle of competing forces. They need to be careful and deliberative to balance the expectations of residents, government, and the market.

Consultation is vital to secure community consensus in the event of climigration. It is a key tool for planners to explain risks and engage residents in crucial decisions.

Specific policy frameworks for climigration are preferable but not essential. When used, they can improve coordination and reduce the risk of negative outcomes.

A confronting concept

While climigration is not yet a common planning issue, it is likely to become an increasingly urgent agenda. Climigration events like those in Louisiana, Alaska and Queensland are just the first wave.

There are limits to the feasibility of climigration. It might only be viable for small towns and villages. Undoubtedly there will be cases where climigration is rejected as too much of challenge.

Triage-based planning could be helpful in deciding which communities to relocate.

Accepting the notion of climigration may be the biggest challenge for planners. The idea that the only viable future for a community is to be relocated elsewhere is unusual and confronting. Managing climigration through planning practice may prove more straightforward than adjusting to the idea in the first place.

TONY MATTHEWS is Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning at Griffith University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

How Women Entrepreneurs are Changing Indian Society

In India, the proportion of women in paid work is among the lowest in the world, at just over 23% – a figure which contrasts sharply with the corresponding rate of over 78% for men.

Opportunities for women to enter employment in the country are limited by a range of factors. These include a dominant tradition of female domestic responsibility, and a prevailing social patriarchy.

Deeply entrenched cultural expectations mean that women are more likely to stay at home. And when they do work, it is mainly on an informal basis, without the luxury of secured wages and contracts.

Against this backdrop, the idea of female entrepreneurship in India faces major challenges. Setting up a business can require significant efforts outside of normal work times, and can lead to women being perceived as irresponsible if they dedicate time to entrepreneurial activities.

But it seems as if things may be changing. My research on women entrepreneurs in India reveals they are contesting social, cultural and family pressures to challenge the status quo in Indian society. They are also empowering other women while providing innovative solutions to major social problems.

Some of the women I spoke to greatly inspired me with their stories. One manufacturing business founder, Pinky Maheshwari, was challenged by her son to make environmentally friendly paper. She went on to create handmade paper made out of cotton that is embedded with seeds. These can then be planted and grown into trees when the paper has served its purpose.

Her award-winning ideas have won appreciation and support from the highest levels of Indian government. She is, she told me, motivated by the idea of empowering others, and “hires women from rural and small towns so that they earn a livelihood and get acknowledged for their creativity”.

She added: “I have employed largely women and I support them in any way I can.”

A similar spirit shone through other women entrepreneurs I interviewed. Padmaja Narsipur, the founder of a digital marketing strategy firm, supports women “re-starters” to join her workforce after a break in their working lives.

She said: “Women re-starters are highly qualified and committed. I have been one myself. I have built a workplace where trust in employees, giving flexible hours, work from home options, is built into the DNA and it is paying off.”

The CEO of Anthill creations, Pooja Rai has a vision to create “interactive learning environments in public spaces with a primary focus on sustainability”, by using recycled materials to build accessible play areas in remote parts of India.

These are just some of the many Indian women entrepreneurs I met who are creating businesses of real purpose. Despite the cultural obstacles, they are changing perceptions and creating innovative businesses that have a real impact on their communities and beyond.

Their work is rewriting the rules for business, families and society while challenging the mindset that there is limited scope for them to create good businesses.

With a blend of social purpose and business acumen, Indian women are embarking on a journey to change perceptions and creating prosperity for themselves and for the nation.

This is the new face of women entrepreneurship in India. And there is evidence that public policy is increasingly supportive of this transformation while society is beginning to celebrate their successes.

Indian society is gradually becoming progressively egalitarian with much needed government initiatives such as “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) designed to improve the prospects of young girls.

Improved access to social mediaeducation, and social enterprises are all contributing to change. These are giving momentum to the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in India.

MILI SHRIVASTAVA is a Lecturer in Strategy at Bournemouth University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

The Hand Of India

At the height of the Cold War, amidst growing tensions between the US and Russia, Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi traveled to Washington D.C to deliver a pragmatic speech on the subjects of communication, understanding and friendship.

35 years later, with increasing polarization around the globe, her simple yet elegant message has never felt so relevant.

However, it is in India, where Indira Gandhi's message still rings most true; somehow managing to make sense of a beguiling and beautifully chaotic society, with a rich reputation of inspiring swathes of Western visitors.

Shot during a two month backpacking trip, with minimal camera equipment, this is the filmmaker’s (Simon Mulvaney) attempt to communicate the beauty of Indira's home country, along with the resonating themes she touched upon all those years ago.

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.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Fighting to End Child Marriage in Lebanon

Ghassan Idriss knows firsthand the harmful effects of child marriage on society. Having married at a young age to a woman even younger than himself, Idriss and his wife faced struggles that so many other couples in his home country of Lebanon grapple with. Now, with three daughters of his own, Idriss is doing everything he can to educate those around him about the dangers of this antiquated institution. By hosting talks, he’s using his voice to spark change within his community.

Think Confederate Monuments are Racist? Consider Pioneer Monuments

‘Early Days.’ Detail of Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Photo by Lisa Allen. Cynthia Prescott,  CC BY-SA

‘Early Days.’ Detail of Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Photo by Lisa Allen. Cynthia Prescott, CC BY-SA

In San Francisco, there is an an 800-ton monument that retells California history, from the Spanish missions to American settlement. Several bronze sculptures and relief plaques depict American Indians, white miners, missionaries and settlers. A female figure symbolizing white culture stands atop a massive stone pillar.

The design of the “pioneer monument” was celebrated in newspapers across the country when it was erected in 1894. Today, however, activists have argued that the monument – particularly its depiction of a Spanish missionary and Mexican “vaquero,” or cowboy, towering over an American Indian – is demeaning to American Indians.

Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Lisa Allen.

Frank Happersberger’s pioneer monument, San Francisco, California, 1894. Lisa Allen.

Should the city take down part of this 125-year-old monument?

Many cities are removing or reinterpreting their Confederate monuments, with the understanding that they commemorate racism. But few Americans realize that pioneer monuments placed across the country are also racist.

As my research and forthcoming book on pioneer monuments since the 1890s show, most early pioneer statues celebrated whites dominating American Indians.

Confederate and pioneer monuments

Since at least 2015, cities across the United States have debated what to do with more than 700 Confederate monuments.

After the Civil War, grieving widows raised funds to place monuments to soldiers in southern cemeteries. But most statues of Confederate leaders and foot soldiers were put up around 1900 by heritage organizations to honor the “Lost Cause.”

The “Lost Cause” is the idea that that the Civil War began as a heroic defense against northern aggression. In fact, the Civil War was primarily fought to defend slavery.

In the past few years, cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland have chosen to remove their Confederate statues. Activists tore down a Confederate soldier statue in Durham, North Carolina last year.

By contrast, there has been far less attention on the roughly 200 pioneer monuments erected for similar reasons around the same time.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 2.32.30 PM.png

The earliest pioneer monuments were put up in midwestern and western cities such as Des Moines, Iowa and San Francisco, California. They date from the 1890s and early 1900s, as whites settled the frontier and pushed American Indians onto reservations.

Those statues showed white men claiming land and building farms and cities in the West. They explicitly celebrated the dominant white view of the Wild West progressing from American Indian “savagery” to white “civilization.”

Deviations from that script produced public controversy. For example, Denver residents in 1907 vocally opposed prominent American sculptor Frederick MacMonnies’s plan for a pioneer monument. MacMonnies proposed a large stone pillar surrounded by bronze hunters, miners and settlers similar to San Francisco’s celebrated monument. MacMonnies’s model included a mounted Plains American Indian warrior atop the pillar to show American Indians yielding to white settlement.

But Denver residents expected the figure at the top of the pillar to represent the pinnacle of progress, like “Eureka,” the female figure representing the spirit of California on San Francisco’s monument.

Denver’s residents argued that the monument needed a white man on top, so MacMonnies revised his design, replacing the American Indian warrior with frontiersman and American Indian fighter Kit Carson, on horseback.

August Leimbach, Madonna of the Trail, Springfield, Ohio, 1928.

August Leimbach, Madonna of the Trail, Springfield, Ohio, 1928.

By the 1920s, whites controlled most western lands, and they stopped depicting American Indians in their pioneer monuments. New pioneer monuments from Maryland to California focused on western women. Pioneer mothers in sunbonnets stood for white “civilization” winning in the West. And they offered a conservative model of womanhood to contrast flappers wearing short dresses and bobbed hair and women’s growing sexual freedom.

More recent monuments, such as Goodland, Kansas’s “They Came to Stay” and Omaha, Nebraska’s “Pioneer Courage,” do not directly engage racial politics. As their titles suggest, these statues honor pioneer families’ grit, and they teach local history.

But these statues still represent a racist view, ignoring the cost of white settlement on Native lands. Like earlier monuments, they reinforce white dominance and erase ethnic diversity in the American West.

Pioneer monuments today

The recent debate about Confederate monuments has sparked some discussion of pioneer monuments in a few places. In April, Kalamazoo, Michigan removed its 1940 “Fountain of the Pioneers” because local residents disliked its depiction of a white settler looming over an American Indian.

After decades of protest, San Francisco debated taking down the depiction of a Spanish missionary towering over an American Indian from the 1894 pioneer monument.

In the 1990s, activists persuaded the city to place a plaque telling the dark side of California history in front of the statue. But today’s protesters argued that plaque, hidden by landscaping, is not enough. They want “Early Days” – if not the entire monument – taken down.

The San Francisco Arts Commission agrees, but the Board of Appeals blocked its removal in April.

On September 14, 2018, the “Early Days” statue was removed from the San Francisco monument and placed in storage. In April 2019, about 150 Native American leaders and youth from across California posed for photographs on the empty base where “Early Days” once stood. The photos will be part of the San Francisco Art Commission’s American Indian Initiative.

Each pioneer monument has its own history and local meaning. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But communities are beginning to consider removing or reinterpreting these monuments to white conquest.

CYNTHIA PRESCOTT is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Dakota.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION


I am Congo

Get to know the Congo before you walk through the streets yourself. In this immersive experience, you'll see the vast forest of the congo, the countries colorful style, and break taking shots of life in the city. As part of the "I am" series, videographers spent time in the Congo meeting local artisans, traders and musicians. Their experience, laid out for you here.

Senior Welfare Benefits Universal Across Uganda

Uganda recently raised the age for welfare benefits to 80. At the same time, the government expanded the program to be universal across the country, thus both increasing and cutting the number of people who will receive benefits used for necessities.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

It is estimated that 8 million Ugandans (out of 37.7 million people) live below the poverty line. With a faltering tradition of family support, people are forced to continue working past the point when they should. Generally, they continue with trade or small-scale farming. Those who are ill or otherwise unable to work doubly suffer. 

In 2010, Uganda, together with the UK Department for International Development, Irish Aid and the United Nations Children’s Fund, began to create social pensions that assist those who have such precarious incomes. 

As of July, Uganda’s welfare Senior Citizens grant, part of their Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) program, has raised their age of entry to 80, which cuts people out between the ages of 65 and 79 who had previously been eligible. These people will have no access to monthly benefits as of the upcoming year. However, at the same time, they expanded the grant so it is universal in Uganda. For the first 100,000 people who joined, the age for eligibility was 65, which was lowered to 60 in Karamoja due to the lower life expectancy there. After that number was reached, the government rolled out the pension to another 40 districts. However, with those districts, it was available only to the 100 oldest in a village. Now, the pension is universal, though the entry age is 80. As of June, according to HelpAge, more than 160,000 people have been enrolled in the program. Due to making everyone eligible, roughly 365,000 Ugandans now have the opportunity to receive a pension. The exact number is unclear.

There is also the problem of earlier deaths, possibly increased by the enlarged population of those living below the poverty line. Julius Mukunda, co-ordinator of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, believes that the government’s failure to care for the elderly is because of their prioritization of political projects, according to The East African. Inflation pressures have also lowered power levels for SAGE benefits.

The non-contributory pension gives each person 25,000 Ugandan shillings, which converts to $7 US, each month. People use it for food, school supplies, and other necessities. "[The pension] has been instrumental in my life. When I get the money, I become happy. I have used it to buy a goat for my family to rear. I use it to pay school fees and buy books for my children," said Longora, an older man in Napak, Uganda, according to HelpAge.

Households that receive the grants have had their poverty reduced by 19 percent while spending has gone up 33 percent. Households also use the pension to further increase their income, for example by buying livestock. Children who are part of these households have been found to have better education and are less likely to be involved in child labor.

Several other countries in Africa, such as Mauritius, Kenya and Zanzibar, have implemented a social welfare pension, while Mozambique is planning to create a social protection program. However, issues persist, such as mobility issues in getting to the pay point, missing records, and financial abuse.

If the people receiving these pensions continue to speak out about how they have helped themselves and their families, they can hold their governments to account for how services are used. This assertion helps to reduce long-term problems such as financial abuse and other errors. It is each government’s responsibility to make sure citizens are aware of social protection programs and that those services are accessible, inclusive, and efficient.






NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

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Vietnamese Climate Activist Jailed for “Anti-State” Facebook Posts

Nguyen Ngoc Anh was recently sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. 10% of Vietnam’s political prisoners gained their sentences through social media, says Amnesty International. William Iven. CC0.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh was recently sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. 10% of Vietnam’s political prisoners gained their sentences through social media, says Amnesty International. William Iven. CC0.

Vietnamese shrimp farmer and activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was sentenced June 6 to six years in prison and five of house arrest for a series of 2018 Facebook posts that criticized the Communist government, and were therefore deemed “anti-state”.

Anh was arrested in August 2018 in Ben Tre province on charges (according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code) of storing, making, spreading, and declaring information and documents to combat Vietnam’s government. The indictment also stated that Anh created private Facebook groups to discuss and call for protests.

The specific content of his social media isn’t known, but Human Rights Watch noted that the environmental activist also participated in protests in 2016 against the steel company Formosa, whose toxic waste dumping killed marine life off Vietnam’s central coast.

According to RFA’s Vietnamese service, Anh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, said her husband isn’t guilty, and that he was set up. Chau described it as a “staged trial”. Chau said Anh acknowledged broadcasting 74 live videos about political and social issues, but did not admit his guilt.

The Tuesday before the verdict, HWR called for the Vietnamese government to immediately release Anh. This was followed by a call from the European Union the Thursday of the verdict, which cited the freedom of opinion as a form of social justice. The EU also asked for the Vietnamese government to release everyone imprisoned for fighting for human rights, especially since they had been expressing their views peacefully.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam has at least 128 political prisoners, with 10% jailed for social media posts. The EU noted this sentence to be part of a crackdown on critical voices and dissent.

At the same time, the Vietnamese government is considering new laws for social media content, especially in terms of filtering content. “They have realized that Facebook was one of the last safe spaces where people could peacefully speak their mind, spread news, hold debates — everything the authorities are afraid of,” said Nguyen Truong Son, Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaigner, according to the NY Post.

This past January, a new cybersecurity law was approved by legislators, requiring technology companies who operated in Vietnam to store user data there, as well as set up local offices. This sent technology and human rights groups into a frenzy as they questioned the law, especially as to how safe users’ company information was. In the same month, the Vietnamese government accused Facebook of allowing people to post anti-government information. Facebook said that in the last half of 2018 it increased the amount of blocked content to Vietnamese users by over 500 percent.

U.S. lawmakers also called for the curbing of arrests of bloggers and journalists in the name of freedom of expression. The government is punishing people who are peaceably expressing their opinions, stated Amnesty International. For example, blogger and activist Tran Thi Nga is currently serving nine years for spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese state. Other political prisoners have been moved to different prisons, where family members are told they are being disciplined.

Unfortunately, even with other governments and human rights groups urging otherwise, it is unlikely that anything will change soon about the one-party Vietnamese government’s policy towards political prisoners. Another element of the recent cybersecurity law concerns posted information; if companies receive takedown notices for perceived offensive content, they must comply within 24 hours, or risk breaking the law. There is no date as to when the new law will be put into effect.




NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

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Modern Shamans: Financial Managers, Political Pundits and Others Who Help Tame Life’s Uncertainty

Examining chicken intestines, reading the tea leaves, watching the markets – people turn to experts for insight into the mysteries that surround them. Manvir Singh,  CC BY-ND

Examining chicken intestines, reading the tea leaves, watching the markets – people turn to experts for insight into the mysteries that surround them. Manvir Singh, CC BY-ND

Aka Manai explains that there are two kinds of people in the world: simata and sikerei.

I am a simata. He is a sikerei. Sikerei have undergone transformative experiences and emerged with new abilities: They alone can see spirits.

I’ve experienced a lot since that night in Indonesia when Aka Manai told me this. I was there when an initiate first saw spirits, when he and the other sikerei wept as they saw their dead fathers swirling around them. I’ve attended seven healing ceremonies, witnessing the slaughter of dozens of pigs to accompany nights of dancing. But that chat with kind-faced Aka Manai, more than any other experience, grounded my understanding of sikerei in particular and shamanism more generally.

A sikerei treats an initiate’s eyes so he, too, can see spirits. Manvir Singh,  CC BY-ND

A sikerei treats an initiate’s eyes so he, too, can see spirits. Manvir Singh, CC BY-ND

I’m a cognitive anthropologist who studies why societies everywhere develop complex yet strikingly similar traditions, ranging from dance songs to justice to shamanism. And though trancing witch doctors may sound exotic to a Western reader, I argue that the same social and psychological pressures that give rise to healers like Aka Manai produce shaman-analogues in the contemporary, industrialized West.

What is a shaman?

Shamans, including the sikerei I’ve known in Indonesia, are service providers. They specialize in healing and divination, and their services can range from ending a drought to growing a business. Like all magical specialists, they rely on spells and occult gizmos, but what makes shamans special is that they use trance.

Trance is any foreign psychological state in which a practitioner is said to engage with the supernaturalSome trances involve complete immobilization; others appear as tongue-lolling convulsions. In some South American groups, shamans enter trance by snorting a hallucinogenic powder, transforming themselves into crawling, unintelligible spirit-beings.

Being a shaman often carries benefits, both because they get paid and because their special position grants them prestige and influence.

But these advantages are offset by the ordeals involved. In many societies, a wannabe initiate lacks credibility until he (and it’s usually a he) undergoes a near-death experience or a long bout of asceticism.

One aboriginal Australian shaman told ethnographers that, as a novice, he was killed by an older shaman who then replaced his organs with a new, magical set. When he woke up from the surgery and asked the old shaman if he was lost, the old man replied, “No, you are not lost; I killed you a long time ago.”

A long time ago, a short time ago, here, there – wherever you look, there are shamans. Manifesting as mediums, channelers, witch doctors and the prophets of religious movements, shamans have appeared in most human societies, including nearly all documented hunter-gatherers. They characterized the religious lives of ancestral humans and are often said to be the “first profession.”

Why are there shamans?

Why is it that when we lanky primates get together for long enough, our societies reliably give rise to trance-dancing healers?

According to anthropologist Michael Winkelman, the answer is wisdom. Drugs and drumming, he’s argued, link up brain regions that don’t normally communicate. This connection yields new insights, allowing shamans to do things like heal sickness and locate animals. By specializing in trance, shamans uncover solutions inaccessible to normal brains.

Based on my fieldwork, I’ve argued against Winkelman’s account. Rather than all integrating people’s psychologies, trance states are wildly diverse. Chanting, sipping psychoactive brews such as ayahuasca, dancing to the point of exhaustion, even smoking extreme quantities of tobacco – these methods produce profoundly different states. Some are arousing, others calming; some expand awareness, others induce repetitive thinking. In fact, the only element shared among these states is their exoticness – that once altered, the shaman’s experience stands apart from those of his onlookers.

As part of his anthropological fieldwork, author Manvir Singh speaks with an Indonesian shaman. Luke Glowacki,  CC BY-ND

As part of his anthropological fieldwork, author Manvir Singh speaks with an Indonesian shaman. Luke Glowacki, CC BY-ND

Not only are shamans’ experiences exotic, their very beings are, too. As Aka Manai emphasized to me, people understand shamans to be different kinds of entities, made “other” by their ordeals. The Mentawai word for a non-shaman, simata, also describes uncooked food or unripe fruit; it implies immaturity. The word for shaman, in contrast, means a person who has undergone a process: one who has been kerei’d and come out the other side a sikerei.

This otherness is crucial. Convinced that shamans diverge from normal people, communities accept that they have superhuman abilities. Like Superman’s alien origins and the X-Men’s genetic mutations, shamans’ transformations assure people that they deviate from normal humanness, making their claims of supernatural engagement more believable.

And once people trust that a specialist engages with gods and spirits, they go to them when they need to influence uncertainty. A sick child’s parent or a farmer desperate for rain prefers to nudge the forces responsible for their hardship – and a shaman provides a compelling conduit for doing so.

This, I suggest, is why shamans recur around the world and across time. As specialists compete in markets for magic, they fuel the evolution of practices that hack people’s intuitions about magic and special abilities, convincing the rest of us that they can control uncertainty. Shamans are the culmination of this evolution. They use trance and initiations to transcend humanness, assuring their clients that they can commune with the invisible beings who oversee uncertain events.

Who are the shamans of the industrialized West?

Most people assume that shamanism has disappeared in the industrialized West – that it’s an ancient tradition of long-lost tribes, at most resurrected and corrupted by New Age xenophiles and overeager mystics.

To some extent, these people are right. Far fewer Westerners visit trance-practitioners to heal illness or call rain than people have elsewhere in the world or throughout history. But they’re also wrong. Like people everywhere, contemporary Westerners look to experts to achieve the impossible – to heal incurable illnesses, to forecast unknowable futures – and the experts, in turn, compete among themselves, performing to convince people of their special abilities.

So who are these modern shamans?

A specialist you can turn to for help divining the mysterious forces at work in financial markets.  Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

A specialist you can turn to for help divining the mysterious forces at work in financial markets. Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

According to the cognitive scientist Samuel Johnson, financial money managers are likely candidates. Money managers fail to outperform the market – in fact, they even fail to systematically outperform each other – yet customers continue to pay them to divine future stock prices.

This faith might come from a belief of their fundamental otherness. Johnson points out that money managers emphasize their differences from clients, exhibiting extreme charisma and enduring superhuman work schedules. Managers also adorn themselves with advanced mathematical degrees and use complicated statistical models to predict the market. Although money managers don’t enter trance, their degrees and models assure clients that the specialists can peer into otherwise opaque forces.

Of course, money managers aren’t the only experts to specialize in the impossible. Psychics, sports analysts, political pundits, economic forecasters, esoteric healers and even an octopus similarly sate people’s desires to tame the uncertain. Like shamans and money managers, they decorate themselves with badges of credibility – an association with the White House, for example, or a familiarity with ancient Tibetan medicine – that persuade customers of their special abilities.

As long as hidden forces shape our fates, people will try to control them. And as long as it’s profitable, pseudo-experts will compete for desperate clients, dressing in the most credible and compelling costumes. Shamanism is not some arcane tradition restricted to an ancient past or New Age circles. It’s a near-inevitable consequence of our human intuitions about special abilities and our desire to control the uncertain, and elements of it appear everywhere.

MANVIR SINGH is a PhD Candidate in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

“Untouchables” Still Struggle for Equality in Indian Society

For centuries, Dalits occupied the lowest rung of Indian society. Flickr user The Philosophy of photography -  https://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo-gianni/109971376/ . CC  BY 2.0.

For centuries, Dalits occupied the lowest rung of Indian society. Flickr user The Philosophy of photography - https://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo-gianni/109971376/. CC  BY 2.0.

With 1.2 billion citizens India is the second most populous country in the world, and while today’s India is governed by a parliamentary system, for more than three millennia, India’s massive population lived under a rigid caste system that forced many Indians into occupational roles with no hope of advancement.  Though modern India has officially done away with castes, the old system’s influence is still felt, particularly among those formerly identified as “untouchables”.

According to Hindu texts, the caste system was brought to India by the creator god Brahma. The top caste was occupied by Brahmins, India’s priests and teachers. Next came Kshatriyas, who were warriors and rulers. Below them, Vaisyas made up the middle class of merchants and traders while Sudras were unskilled workers or peasants. Dalits were “untouchables,” outcasts who existed outside of the caste system entirely and were often relegated to undesirable tasks like street sweeping, toilet cleaning, and disposing of dead animals. A person’s surname identified to which caste they belonged., While one could never hope to ascend to a higher caste in a single lifetime, it was believed that through dedication to one’s Dharma, or caste-specific duty, one could earn a higher position in the next life.

In 1950, the caste system was abolished, creating new opportunities for social mobility and intermingling between India’s various social groups.  India even elected a Dalit president, K.R. Narayanan, who served from 1997 until 2002. Tensions remain, however, as Dalits, still identifiable by their surnames, continually find themselves subject to discrimination, harassment, assaults, and rapes. Many attacks go unreported, and local police tend to show leniency to the attackers.

India’s caste system has been likened to South African apartheid or the Jim Crow laws, both of which required many years of legislation and social pressure to affect changes which could be embraced by the general populace—if they were ever fully embraced at all. As India wrestles with its own history of social stratification, the future of its Dalits remains unclear.  But it is clear that Dalits, who make up a quarter of India’s population, are an integral part of Indian history, culture, and society, and they won’t be leaving any time soon. Greater equality could be vital to India’s overall health as a country.




JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Female Saudi Arabian Activist on Death Row for Peaceful Protest

On August 21, 2018, Saudi Arabian public prosecutors announced that they were considering the death penalty for five Saudi Shia activists. One of the five is Israa al-Ghomgham, a female activist who could become the first woman sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. Ghomgham, along with four other Saudi Shia activists including her husband, engaged in peaceful demonstrations for Shia rights beginning in 2011 during the rise of the Arab Spring, which led to their 2015 arrests.

Saudi Arabian Flag. Iqbal Osman. Wikimedia Commons

Saudi Arabian Flag. Iqbal Osman. Wikimedia Commons

“Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behavior, is monstrous,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, who directs the Middle East sector of Human Rights Watch. “Every day, the Saudi monarchy’s unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public relations teams to spin the fairy tale of ‘reform’ to allies and international business.”

Responding to peaceful protests with the death penalty is compromising both to proponents of human decency and order, and these actions are symptomatic of a larger illness. If Saudi Arabia is to continue to suppress and murder its own citizens, its actions could lead to its internal combustion. To preserve its tenuous position of prosperity, the Saudi Arabian government must honor the voices of its insurgents—or at least allow them to live.

Saudi Arabia, a desert country in the Middle East said to be the birthplace of Islam, holds a complex position at the pinnacle of capital and culture. It has the world’s third highest national total estimated value of natural resources. It is home to the world’s largest oil company, and it has been the proponent of various reform agendas, significant amount of money invested in solar energy. It is also ruled by the ultraconservative Wahhabi religious movement, which is part of Sunni Islam.

It has shown support for counterterrorism and revolutionary liberal and Arab Spring ideals and has supported rebel forces in Syria and Yemen, but internally it has been a breeding ground for violent forms of radical Islam, placing it at a crux between the most progressive and oppressive sides of the ideological spectrum. The nation’s 32-year-old king, Mohammed bin Salman, has been pushing to modernize his country, opening movie theatres and allowing women to drive for the first time—but his actions towards protestors despite his presentation of liberalism rings eerily close to the actions of Bashar al Assad, Syrian president who also began his reign by encouraging Westernization in Syria before cracking down on protestors and unleashing a bloody civil war. Under Salman, critics of the Saudi Arabian regime have been arrested in scores, and 58 people are currently on death row. Many of these prisoners are women, often arrested for protesting the country’s guardianship system, which places Saudi Arabian men in almost complete control of their daughters’ or wives’ lives.


Israa al-Ghomgham and her husband were arrested on December 5, 2015, and are on trial at the Specialized Criminal Court, which Saudi Arabia installed in 2008 and which has drawn expense criticism from human rights activists, sentencing eight protestors to death in 2014 and 14 in 2016. Currently human rights campaigners are working to secure her freedom and life.




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

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