By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Recently, a new “100 Days” project emerged; this one labeled The Great Discontent and a product of an inquiry begun by artist Ella Luna. A few of my friends joined the plan to make something for 100 days in a row and post the results to a selected social media platform. Always eager to be more creative in my daily life, I elected to begin a “100 Days” project, too.

The “100 Days” project runs from Monday, April 6 through Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Beginning a project on April 6th seemed particularly fascinating, as it was the day after Easter, the traditional conclusion of Lent. No matter what our beliefs (or lack thereof), human beings crave ritual.

finish-each-day-and-be-done-with-itMany of my artistic friends selected drawing for 100 days, but I turn to words when inclined to create. Words are my touchstone. When sad, or lonely, or confused, or feeling powerless, I read and write. While casting about, trying to imagine what I’d like to work on for 100 days, I considered a variety of writerly exercises, including 100 days of metaphors, but that plan transformed.

Ultimately, I decided to curate a collection of good advice; thus, my project is on Instagram with the label #100DaysofGoodAdvice.

My selection of “Good Advice” highlights two fundamental questions: what does advice entail, and how and when might it be considered good?

Defining words requires traversing a complex landscape of meaning while maintaining a keen awareness of implication. Advice suggests a useful approach to life. In order for it to be good, it must be purposeful. All advice remains dependent on situational factors, an eloquent answer may be wrong as often as it is right. At this point I am reminded of Heraclitus’ proclamation, “workoutYou cannot step into the same river twice.” Despite these challenges of connotation and relevance, after a full fifteen days, I’m thrilled with the results.

I have to make the conscious effort to find and select a new piece of good advice each day, attempting, when I can, to connect the events of my day with some larger perception, as when I spent a weekend visiting a longtime friend, and I was reminded of the eminently useful bit of wisdom I learned in a song from Girl Scouts, “make new friends, but keep the old (one is silver and the other gold).”

Collecting good advice also requires acknowledging the meaningful encounter, as when I happened upon this empowering idea outside a health club on North Avenue. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better way to perceive my work out routine.

Another wonderful thing about the words and phrases embodying good advice is that the thoughts contained are largely positive, hopeful, which may simply be a reflection of my optimistic sensibility. Knowing that is good, too.

Awareness and intention are essential, and responding to the call to be inspired may be the best any of us can do to remain vibrantly alive.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Jen and I got married 13 years ago.  After a small ceremony, small reception and small honeymoon, we had to take care of the paperwork.  Trips to the DMV and Secretary of State were necessary to gain new ID’s and Social Security cards. Unlike most married couples however, both Jen and I needed new documentation.  We both had new names, and hence, new identities. On an October day in 2002, she became Jenny Jocks Stelzer (nee Stelzer), and I became Michael Stelzer Jocks (nee Jocks).

13 years on and the fact that I changed my name when I got married still catches people off-guard. So not surprisingly, a recent Atlantic article titled ‘Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married‘  caught my eye. Not only did I ‘consider it'; I actually did it. Of course, I have been asked many times why I made the unconventional choice, and I believe I provide such queries with a very good answer.

A couple years before we got married, Jen and I talked about the topic of spouses changing names after marriage. As a progressive, idealistic 21 year old who enjoyed going against social norms, I stated with a good deal of bravado that if we ever got married I would gladly take her last name, and cast off the surname Jocks.  A bit incredulous, she asked, ‘Really’?  ‘Sure, why not’, I responded…..Buuuutttt, the more I thought about it, the more troubling I found the possibility.  I think it was later the same day that I stated I, in fact, would not become Michael Stelzer if, and/or when we got married.  After all, for my whole existence I had been Michael Jocks.  Who would I be if I changed that?  It was a surprisingly disturbing question.

On the other hand, if I found it so troubling to give up my name, and some portion of my identity, how could I expect, much less demand, that Jenny change her name simply based upon tradition?  If she wanted to take my name, that would be fine.  But, it was completely her choice and I would have no say in the matter.  Sometime after this discussion, when marriage was actually on the horizon, we came up with our compromise.  I would take her name, and keep my name, and she would take my name and keep her name.  That was that. All’s fair.

And so, this brings me back to that Atlantic article. Most of the article deals with the troubling history behind the marriage_dictionarytradition of women changing their names. I won’t go into that here as you can read the linked article yourself. But, one part does need to be dealt with in this post (and future posts as well).  The first line of the article is an absolutely dumbfounding statistic. According to a recent study, ‘More than 50% of Americans think the woman should be legally required to take her husband’s name in heterosexual marriages.’  Read that again.  It does not say over 50% of Americans feel women ‘should’ change their name (that is closer to 70% of Americans). No, no, no. Over 50% of Americans feel there should be a law that forces women to change their names at marriage.

Mind blown…

This is shocking for numerous reasons. In my next post, I want to delve into what this statistic says about how Americans’ view womens’ rights in a historical context. Here, however, I just want to point out how out of place this is in our national political environment.

Americans today are seemingly obsessed with libertarianism. Now, this does not mean a huge portion of people identify themselves as such politically. It is only about 10% of the voting public who call themselves libertarian.  But, on many topics, libertarianism has a foothold. The cause of this obviously has much to do with how Americans feel about the government.  Congress is notoriously despised by the American people, and for the last ten years, Americans simply do not trust lawmakers, law enforcers, or law interpreters. With such professed distrust of government, the American people are reaching new heights in calls for individual freedom. Gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, deregulation of gun laws, defunding of government services,  liberalization of internet control, etc, etc. On all sides of the political divide, libertarianism is front and center. It seems unlikely that this will end anytime soon.

And, so, we have a surprising paradox here.  Over 50% of Americans, meaning many who argue that the government should not decide who can or cannot get married, who believe the government should have no say whatsoever in curtailing deadly weapons, and who will march against laws limiting the size of sodas, believe, with the utmost cognitive dissonance, that women should be legally mandated to change their names when they get married. If over 50% of Americans today agree on any cultural topic, it is newsworthy. When it comes to women being forced to change their names, evidently liberals and conservatives (and men and women) agree. The majority of voters, at least in theory, support such an obviously paternalistic law.

How can we explain this?

In my next blog, I’m gonna try.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

What’s your favorite Michael Jackson song?

Think about it for a second.

Okay, what’s your answer?

Today, I tested a hypothesis of mine by texting and asking a number of people this same question. Everyone, without exception, responded within seconds:

“‘PYT.’ No question.”

“I like ‘Man in the Mirror.’”

“Probably ‘Billy Jean.’”

“I like ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.’”

“‘The Way You Make Me Feel.’”

“‘Thriller.’”

“Oh – ‘Man in the Mirror.’”

For me, my answer is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Now, why am I asking?

About five years ago, I had an idea to have popular music playing in my classroom as students arrived for our 8:00am class. I thought it would be fun and inject a bit of energy into a group of very tired people (myself included) who had just woken up.

However, I balked.

Generally, people are very judgmental and combative about music. Not just students – all people. I started to envision people would arrive and, rather than enjoy the music, there would just be gripes like “I hate this song?” or “Who listens to this?” or “This singer is terrible!” So, I abandoned the idea.

Instead, I spun it into a class activity. I broke the class into groups and asked them to come up with songs that would appeal to 90% or more of the entire diverse Robert Morris University community, which includes students, staff, faculty, and administrators of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Each group presented their best option to the entire class, and then we voted on which song was the best fit to appeal to that diverse audience.

In the years since, I’ve done this same activity with around 15-20 classes, and the answer in all but one instance has led us to the same artist:

Michael Jackson.

Around 75% of the time, the specific answer is “Billie Jean” with an occasional “Thriller” sprinkled in.

Billie Jean

A few years ago, after years of getting Michael Jackson as the answer to this experiment, I tried out my original concept just to see what would happen. I got to my classroom early and setup a playlist of “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” at the height of their popularity. I then left the room so the “teacher” wouldn’t be present. Just before class started, I peeked in. The music was playing and nearly everyone in the room was dead silent and motionless. Some of them even looked like they were reenacting A Clockwork Orange.

clockwork-horror

“This isn’t lucky at all!!!”

It confirmed my original fear, especially when I got into the class and some students started to gripe about those (at the time) extremely popular songs. This means that even the most popular contemporary songs and artists have no chance at appealing to 90% or more of an extremely diverse audience. But Michael Jackson always does.

Which leads me back to my experiment today.

When I talk about my favorite artists and bands, typically the discussion starts with, “Have you ever heard of this band?” or, “Do you like this song by this group?” Through years of this classroom activity, and through many discussions with friends and colleagues, I realized that Michael Jackson is the only artist for whom you can immediately assume that everyone will know, everyone will like, and everyone will have an immediate response to what their favorite MJ song is as if they have thought about it many times before (which they have).

So, I tested the hypothesis. As I asked a bunch of people today, “What’s your favorite Michael Jackson song?” no one said, “Eh, I don’t like him,” or “I don’t really know his music.” Everyone had an immediate response, literally within seconds.

It isn’t strange that people would love “The King of Pop,” but it is amazing that the love is so universal and unquestioned.

However, strangely, almost no one these days identifies Michael Jackson as their favorite artist. That age has passed, and perhaps just the generation of people who grew up during the time the Thriller album was released would be in play to identify MJ as their favorite artist, but the music remains unquestionably popular to everyone.

My next idea was to wonder if there are any other artists, in any other medium, that are on the “Michael Jackson Level” in this 90% appeal scenario. While sharing this whole topic with my colleagues today, we kicked around a few names. I thought perhaps Steven Spielberg; everyone has to love at least one movie from his catalog, be it Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones or Jaws or E.T. A colleague then proposed The Beatles. Both were good options, but unlike Michael Jackson, we were able to immediately identify ways in which those two would not have the 90% appeal.

Thus, the “King of Pop” really is the king of universal appeal.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
This year’s mayoral election must be one of Chicago’s strangest with but one more day left. What’s so strange? Well, we’re having our first run off in a long time, though most experts felt the incumbent would easily win in the first round. Obviously they were wrong.
Also strange is how very different the two run off candidates seem to be. The incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, is an extraordinarily experienced, nationally known, hard driving, brash, arrogant, steam roller type while his opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is a largely unknown, mid level Chicago machine foot soldier with no special achievements to his name, nor any shining personal skills that would explain his sudden leap to prominence.
Strange too is that “Chuy,” though new to center stage, immediately came out swinging. Unfailingly aggressive, he got lots of media coverage, and initially polls showed he wasn’t far behind Rahm. In the television debates, he easily scored points criticizing Rahm on a host of issues such as ignoring the neighborhoods, relying on speed cameras to generate revenue, and arranging pay for play schemes. Now, the strange thing is less “Chuy’s” aggressiveness, but rather Rahm’s muted, laid back, almost boy scout responses, a complete about face from past behavior. High hat’s out, demure is in.
Though surprisingly successful at first, “Chuy’s” campaign started to flounder a bit as editorials began criticizing his stand on the City’s financial crisis, criticism richly deserved. For “Chuy’s” position sounded and continues to sound bizarre, even ridiculous, as if it was the brainchild of a comedy team writing political satire for a Second City skit.
“Chuy” has said many times his policy is that he has no policy. Why not? Because he can’t offer one until he or an “Official Commission” can objectively examine the City’s “books,” implying Rahm’s budget ain’t legit. Then, several weeks ago, “Chuy” stated flat out at a BGA presentation that the “books are cooked.”
But “Chuy” offers not a shred of proof, nor does he retract his charge. Why then make the claim? All this seems strange, does it not?
Nonetheless, “Chuy” continues arguing that an “Independent Commission” must be created to assess the “books.” Yet he never discloses who he thinks should be on the Commission, what its charge should be, or how the Commission will be chosen. He also fails to explain how the Commission’s recommendations will be implemented. What if, for instance, “Chuy” disagrees with the Commission’s ideas? Chuy’s not talking.
Emanuel’s approach to the budget issue, though definitely a cut well above “Chuy’s”, also leaves much to be desired. Rather than discussing his budget proposal, he prefers listing his first term achievements and blaming Springfield for failing to give the City more money.
So the strangest thing about the election is why neither candidate will say much about the budget crisis, far and away the most important issue confronting the City. An obvious answer is that it’s unpleasant for no easy solutions present themselves.
Certainly this makes sense. However, I believe another factor helps explain the mystery namely, public union influence on City politics. “Chuy” complains about the evils of “pay to play” but neglects mentioning that public unions are the most important group engaging in pay to play schemes. The enormous pension liability the City faces is the number one reason the City’s broke, a liability incurred through elaborate pay to play schemes between our pols and the unions. Are the unions willing to renegotiate these agreements? To date they’ve said no.
Despite his oft expressed call for greater transparency, “Chuy'” never mentions his candidacy is closely linked to the unions though they contribute significant monies to his campaign and promise to supply a large army of voters. Might this be why “Chuy” doesn’t like to discuss cutting services or reducing pension benefits? Could his union ties help explain why his comments about the schools often sound like a CTU handout?
Rahm faces the opposite problem–many unions oppose his re election bid–but union influence also explains Rahm’s reluctance to discuss the budget crisis. Why? Because he fears stirring up the unions, especially the Teachers Union which he infuriated during his first years in office. Karen Lewis, the President of the Teachers Union, screamed bloody murder and vowed she’d teach that high stepping blow hard a lesson he’d never forget. And he hasn’t. Unbrashed, he now minds his manners, eats his oatmeal every morning, and makes very sure he says nothing that might upset the unions, that 5,000 pound guerilla in our living room we’re never allowed to mention.
Thus a major reason we’ve witnessed such a strange even bizarre election season is that the candidates refused to discuss the City’s budget debacle. Only feel good, gee whiz, nice guy issues are allowed. Why? Largely because of union pressures, with “Chuy” running as the union’s candidate, while Rahm campaigns terrified of mentioning service or pension cuts, lest the unions go after him like fleas on a dog. Surely Rahm is by far the better candidate and deserves to win–“Chuy’s” budget views are literally laughable– but the strange and frustrating nature of the election casts a pall over the City’s future.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Work is an interesting thing. Many people do not take kindly to it, not even the term itself. I have never felt this way. I’ve always liked to work in the abstract and often truly delighted in work in the particular. Work yields meaningful productivity. To accomplish something, whatever that something is, feels fantastic.

smallwinsI had a small work victory this week, inspired by a conference I attended in March. Throughout two days of four-hour discussion sessions, the conference didn’t seem particularly valuable; however, in that time, I did formulate one fresh idea. One new, useful idea can affect remarkable change.

I am both an English professor and a reference librarian at good ol’ RMU, flexing into the library when I am needed, as I am this term. I have done three rotations into the library. When in the library, I crave a project, inventing them for myself.  I am happy to have the support of the head librarian, Sue Dutler, who readily accepts my offers to change, to rearrange, to contribute. Work encourages involvement and creates an impact in our community at every level. This is why doing “good” work feels good—no matter what it is.

My new idea was in response to a significant problem: paper waste in academic libraries. As an educator, I am perfectly fine with students printing any documents they need and will use. My complaint is with the terrifyingly tall stacks of print outs left behind, unused, completely and utterly wasted. It is this kind of behavior I am hoping to correct. In order to address the problem of paper waste, I proposed an awareness campaign.

Because the university’s image makers are not fond of excessive signage, I knew my message could not be printed or posted in a traditional sense. Moreover, it would be hypocritical to print flyers asking students to print less. I proposed an electronic message to students: a reminder to consider whether or not they should print a document before doing so. A request to reflect is central to all initiatives; little changes have a large impact. Recently, I started reading a book that addresses the power of small wins within the context of big changes The Power of Habit: Why we Do What We Do in Life and Business. Happily, the serendipitous intersection of ideas pervades higher education.

The head libr3rarian helped me put my plan into action, advising me to get approval from various entities, including asking the IT department to help us install the screensaver on all the computers in the library. Amazingly, this process only took a few days, and on Monday, March 30, 2015, my small vision sprang to life on the computers, as if by magic.

The message is good and clean. One of the IT professionals even went so far as to call it “elegant,” for which I take only the credit of selecting an image that is balanced and beautiful and instantly recognizable. I wrote the ‘copy’ with an intentionally gentle and positive message, “Think Before You Print; In Honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2015, Our Environment Thanks You.”

A “thank you” is always nice, and personifying the environment was an intentional strategy to help the students feel connected to our environment.

Each day, work offers the small win of doing something meaningful, and an occasion to celebrate a job well done.

By Jasmine Ng, RMU Student

The latest snowstorm in the Chicagoland area has come and gone. In saying that, I’m pretty sure Winter Snow Storm “Beck” will be upon us as we speak. We can only hope this snow storm can respect my “artistry,” because I have approximately 475 design projects due. So while this last snow storm has invigorated the rock salt, snow shovel, and lawn chair businesses it has some if not most Chicagoland residents acting like they’ve never even seen snow.

Yes..Jay and Queen Bey, it’s winter in Chicago. Imagine that? I mean, what do you expect? Unless you’ve just moved here, you know the deal. It will snow, and it will snow a lot. Unless you have four wheel drive you will be sliding your way to school or work. Your car will be buried alive, and Grandma herself will be waiting to smash her snow shovel over your head if you even think twice about moving that lawn chair away from her parking spot. But guess what? That’s winter in Chicago for you. But you wouldn’t think that from looking at all of the news reports leading up to the storm. There’s live reporting from the battle grounds and man on the street interviews with average Joes looking as bundled up as Randy from “A Christmas Story.”

Yes, thank you local news, I really need the opinions of other people to confirm that Olaf from Frozen will be having a blast in this weather.

It’s not like we live in Miami and the only thing white is the hair on most of the wealthy people that live there. Don’t get me wrong, the snow was terrible. You know it. I know it. Rather then waste both of our precious time, just sit back relax and deal with it. You live in, or around Chicago. Why not focus on being more productive? For example, check out this really cool video of a DJ Bulldog.

I’ll catch you at the next snow storm when we’ll all be huddled around that heat lamp on the EL platform.  Yes, I know it sucks. The only two people who think snow is cool is my five year old cousin and Tom Skilling.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Last night, I attended a staged reading of a new theatrical piece written by my friend and former colleague, H.V. Cramond, and her coworker Cayenene Sullivan entitled Tenure Track: A Musical.

Witnessing any creative process from its inception is thrilling, and I was impressed by the results of their work. As a staged reading, it was a preview of what is to come should they be successful in securing a large-scale production, which I fully hope they are. The initial writing and staging was supported by a GoFundMe campaign. They achieved their fundraising goal of $2,000, used to rent theater space, and pay the actors, musicians, and director involved in this early stage in the evolution of their play.

The musical presents a satirical, and thus utterly honest, look at the state of higher education. Anyone who has occasion to encounter the collegiate system, whether as students or through their college-aged children, suspects that there are more than a few aspects of higher education in need of repair. Most everyone I know who works in higher education would argue (after a drink or two) that the system may be quite completely broken. It is this sad reality that feeds the dark humor in the musical.

tenuretrackThe primary purpose of the play is to reveal the struggle endured by adjunct instructors at colleges and universities across America. It is an intellectual and academic double-bind, creating a set of dependencies and abuses indicative of a deeply flawed relationship, and fodder for some potentially great theater. The universities use adjuncts to save money while the adjuncts continue teaching in the vain hope that someday, their tenure will come.

The play features a protagonist in just such an unhappy situation. P. S. Latte, played by Elizabeth Elston Shiry, is a longtime adjunct in the English Department at Garbanzo University, which is situated in a major Midwestern metropolis. She has worked diligently as an instructor for ten years, teaching, publishing, and serving on committees, including the preposterously named (and right on target) ‘Office of First Year Sustainable Technology Experience Projects.’ She even finds time to write a work of racy historical fiction called The Shame of Sister Agatha. This woman is trying really hard, so hard that she neglects her purposefully ideal boyfriend, Allessandro, played by Andrew Spatafora, who knits, cooks, and supports his partner, a pleasing gender reversal. Nevertheless I wish his character had a bit more depth, mostly so the “perfect partner” as type, regardless of gender, gets phased out of modern drama.

button

This button served as entry to the performance.

One of the crucial hardships adjuncts face is economic instability, addressed in the opening musical number “The Couch Song” an all-too accurate portrayal of the types of luxuries an adjunct cannot afford, even furniture.

Of the remaining musical numbers, the best feature duets or most of the cast, the classroom conflicts well wrought in pairings and groups made jaunty by a big musical feel.

Like any satire, the play is raw and real, funny and sad. Many jokes elicited exasperated guffaws rather than laughs from the audience, a majority having experienced similar career frustrations.

The rest of the cast is filled with academic types, the sardonic and sassy librarian, Betty, (no doubt inspired by me) and brilliantly embodied by Sarah Beth Tanner. The older, full-time member of the English department no longer pretends to be interested in academic standards. The dean is a horny sycophant, and the provost an even broader caricature of out-of-touch administrators. Sadly, all of these characters are thoroughly believable.

Did I mention the puppets?

The key crisis, and the one that holds P.S. back from attaining the long-desired full time position, involves a disappointed and entitled student, Sarah Lawrence Snow, each line delivered with smug perfection by Hillary Sigale, another standout from the cast. The student is unhappy with her grade and happens to be the daughter of the provost. In the end, Sarah gets her way, and her “A,” and P.S. Latte leaves academia, the spoiled dean abandoned to the onslaught of student grade complaints.

There is a lot to look forward to in the promised full production. I’d venture to guess that this ambitious piece would give American college students something to discuss in literature classes, should they ever learn how to do so.

Happy Little Trees

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.~Emerson

Great friendships have been a hallmark of my life. The reason for this is a mystery. I can’t claim responsibility for such an extraordinary advantage. Doing so would be akin to a great singer taking credit for the astonishing beauties of music. Like a devoted musician, I develop and nurture my friendships, but the realization of so many close and lasting relationships is a mysterious and innate talent I have somehow been bestowed. how_i_became_a_fairy_godmotherI shall presume an incredibly wise fairy godmother worked to ensure that my life positively overflows with enchanting friends.

My closest friends possess similar traits, but are all different types of people. Early on, I established a habit of seeing a potential friend in any and every kind of individual. Happily, contemporary life allows for my friendships among men and women to thrive, no matter their relationship status. Throughout much of history, the kind of intimacy between the sexes would have been perceived as odd, or problematic. Childhood friends have remained close, spending time with me with or without their partners. My friends are wealthy, middle class, and struggling, or in some state of flux. I find that money rarely matters, and if I any of us have a bit more, the only thing that changes is the regularity and expense of gifts and trips. I have friends in every age group. Many of my friends are a decade older or younger than I am. Whether older or younger, these friends provide an opportunity to witness the exquisite, shapeshifting nature of life, the eagerness and anxiety of youth transforming into certainty and contentment. I am privileged to have friends from different backgrounds of every sort. I like all types of people, and, fortunately, they like me, too.

Fantastic friendships are phenomenal treasures.Of the things my friends do have in common, here’s the only absolute: they all make me laugh. As for the rest, they are just geaudennerally too good to be true. They tend to be graceful, and find my clumsiness amusing. Often they are beautiful, in ways subtle and intense. They surprise me with thoughtful and generous gifts of time and attention. They inspire me to try new things; they challenge my rigidity; they encourage me to stay up late and go out dancing.

Good friendships are profoundly beautiful, deeply comforting, and just plain fun. I suppose I ought to write a friend-by-friend discussion and analysis, but that would require much more time than I have at the moment, and I fear accidentally forgetting someone, which would be unforgivable.

 

I have been planning an art project affectionately described as a “friend orchard” along the lines of a family tree. In this orchard, trees would designate different friend groups: Cleveland friends, graduate school friends, library school friends, Chicago friends, 826 friends, work friends, and the Urban Family. This strategy would always allow room to add new friends.

Whether or not the project is ever completed, I delight in the idea of growing friendships enough to fill a forest.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
Rahm’s bombs fail to hit their intended target–the four challengers running to unseat him and become the next mayor of Chicago. Instead they hit Rahm himself causing considerable damage to his carefully crafted image while significantly enhancing the fortunes of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm’s most formidable opponent.

Thus the obvious question is–why did he get beat so badly? Though the election proved more complicated than the media Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiativesuggested, a Garcia inspired consensus explanation quickly emerged. It claimed that Rahm was a narcissistic, ego manical, cold, abrasive, power crazed, ambition besotted hard head who loves doing favors for big shots and ignores the little guy–a high flyer who hob nobs in D.C., raises millions in L.A., touts Down Town, and thumbs his nose at the neighborhoods, oh, and doesn’t care for unions. Biggest piece of proof: he mindlessly closed 50 schools on the South Side! Yes, 50 schools! On the South Side!

But a translation is necessary. South Side isn’t simply a geographic designation to be contrasted with its geographical antipode– North Side. No! South Side means African American Chicago. It means black and thus not white. Or, since we’re talking politics, not geography, let’s get serious: shutting 50 schools on the South Side means racism. Period.
So Rahm is not simply an ego maniac, he’s a racist ego maniac. Well not exactly a racist because in fact he comes from an very liberal family (in the 60s, his mom participated in the big civil rights protests going to the South to work for voting rights legislation) and Rahm has always called himself a liberal. And as everyone knows, Rahm was President Obama’s first chief of staff, even getting the President to campaign for him during the last week of the election. Still while he’s not George Wallace, he did close those schools while never closing a single white school, and politically speaking, that equals racism.

Since we mentioned schools, let’s also note that at the beginning of his term, he came down a bit hard on teachers–but again, a translation is necessary for teachers don’t mean teachers, exactly; it means the Chicago Teachers Union. 476915_630x354Moreover, in this case, it means Ms. Karen Lewis, who is one very sharp, very clever, very funny, very media savvy person and the Head of the Teachers Union. In provoking Karen Lewis, Rahm met his match. Looking back in retrospect, from that point on, Rahm’s fortunes tumbled. Like a Russell Terrier, Lewis wouldn’t let go and Rahm knew not how to deal with her.

Now the media had an even better story to tell: Rahm was a hard headed, big shot elitist who ignored the neighborhoods, had racist policies, wasn’t exactly cordial to the unions, and regularly got bested by Ms. Lewis. To further improve this neighborhood, little guy theme, slighting the Hispanic community was added to the cauldron of complaints–and we’re off to the races, which helps explain why “Chuy” decides to put his hat in the ring.

So that’s the consensus view of why Rahm bombed. While this account obviously makes sense, I don’t buy it for the rather naive and obtuse reason that I tend to be color blind and feel that issues are more important than race and ethnicity though surely there’s some relation between one’s race and one’s views on issues. But it’s not one to one. Thus explaining Rahm’s bomb using the little guy big shot theme doesn’t completely work.

My take is different; it focuses on issues and, indeed, focuses on one issue alone. The issue which I believe explains why Rahm bombed is the fact that Chicago is in dire financial straits and will likely go bankrupt if it fails to put together a serious–meaning painful– plan to address this reality. For instance, the Public School System is 1 billion in debt. And folks is screaming at Rahm for closing 50 run down half empty schools. Yet rather than strongly defending his actions, Rahm starts stuttering and flies to L.A. or NYC for a campaign fund raiser whose loot will be used to pay for a 2015 30 second ad criticizing “Chuy” for favoring a tax increase in 1986. Looney Tunes, methinks.

The real point is that Rahm claimed to be the tough guy capable of making the tough calls but the record shows he dodges them never coming clean on how desperate is the City’s plight along nor does he offer a plausible proposal to address it. Instead, he tells stories how he fixed some CTA track lines (good for you, Rahm) and got the schools to lengthen the school day (again good for you)–both, certainly, worthwhile achievements. But compared to the financial crisis he never mentions, these successes pale in significance. Rahm proceeds as if it’s business as usual. But it’s not. So I think the real reason Rahm bombed is that lots of folks believe Rahm simply fiddles while Chicago burns.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Americans cherish freedom.  When I ask my students what they think of, or what they think others think of, when they hear the word ‘America’,  ‘Freedom’ is almost invariably the first answer given.  From a young age, we are taught that freedom is the life-blood of America, and hence, of American history. Our founding stories are the beginning, and heart of this narrative.

National foundations have the habit to intertwine history and mythology; the American tale is no different.  From our Republic’s earliest days, the hagiography of the founders was central.  Some of this was self-created by theweems founders themselves, such as Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Autobiography'; some was conjured by the second generation of Americans who just missed the romance of the Revolution. As the Revolutionary generation began to die off, the younger men and women of post-Revolutionary America lionized the lives and accomplishments of their forebears.  Most famously, in the decade after the death of Washington in 1799, the little known Parson Weems produced a heroic biography of our first President that depicted the man as moral exemplar and ethical sage. Weems’ book became an American ‘bestseller’.

Today, Americans are generally less naive about the founders.  Washington did not ever say ‘I cannot tell a lie,’ and he most definitely is not a moral model for the 21st century. Most realize that Washington, and many other founders, were slave-owners. This paradox encapsulates American history. As the founders crafted our Constitution, their worldview was crafted by their slave society.  Jefferson, Madison, Monroe: denizens of freedom; owners of human beings.  Conversely, John Adams did not own any slaves.  But, American slave society did not draw distinctions between slave-drivers imagesand those who simply lived along side.  When Adams was in Philadelphia in 1776, calling for revolutionary independence, his wife Abigail wrote him to ‘remind him’ about the possibility of women’s rights.  Sounding like a 21st century woman, Abigail wrote ” I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.”

But, Abigail was living in the 18th century, and her husband was an 18th century man.  He wrote back in response that her concern for women’s rights made him ‘laugh’. He said he had been warned that the American,

‘Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient — that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent — that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.’

Here Adams was stating the Revolution was really only for a few.  Women, Indians, children and, of course, Negroes need not apply.

But, Adams was blind.  Even as his revolution was rocking the world, his world was being rocked by those ‘insolent negroes.’ They were making their own freedom.


How can we understand what most African-Americans thought about the American Revolution and the new American government?  Since most African-Americans were in bondage in 1776, their thoughts and words have been lost to the ages. However, their actions were recorded and these actions proved these people were revolutionaries in their own right. Thousands of men, women and children rebelled by grabbing freedom with their own hands. For these African-American revolutionaries, the British did not mean oppression; the British were a tool for liberty.  In his 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, the historian Alan Taylor pointed out that African-Americans repeatedly fled for freedom in the early Republic. In 1812, when the United States declared war on Great Britain for a second time, slaves from the south fled to British ships, and British lines, yet again.  In other words, the slaves were not helpless victims. Like the patriots who fought for freedom against the British in 1776, these enslaved Americans were fighting a revolution for their own freedom.

The War of 1812 ended in 1815, and with it, British presence in America. Slaves now had few options for freedom. They could rise up with violence; or they could run away to a gradually emancipating north. Neither of these options held great promise. Northern states were by no means the land of freedom for African-Americans. Whereas in the South, the unjust system of American slavery was becoming more entrenched, and more caustic as the years went by. After Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, the world of the slave was obsessively monitored by white society.  Freedom was curtailed more and more as the Civil War drew nearer. What was needed in these dark days was a clarion call for freedom that illustrated American hypocrisy. The little remembered David Walker was the man who took the necessary stand. He would be one our nation’s most important moral voices. In 1829, he published his ‘Appeal’ and that work would inspire later radical abolitionists such as Garrison, the Grimke sisters and Frederick Douglass.  In walkers-appealincredibly upfront language for 1829, Walker’s ‘Appeal’ accused white Americans of the greatest, most horrific hypocrisy.  He wrote,

‘See your Declaration Americans! ! ! Do you understand your own language? Hear your languages, proclaimed to the world, July 4th, 1776 — “We hold these truths to be self evident — that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL! ! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! !” Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us — men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation’

Because of such truthtelling, Walker became public enemy number 1 in the south. He was not much liked in the north either.  In 1830, as Walker’s ‘Appeal’ was being burned in effigy, Walker was found dead in Boston of Tuberculous. It was a tragic end of an under appreciated American freedom fighter. But, Walker had opened eyes. He helped those who followed him see that slavery would not go quietly.  In April 1861, all of America came to the same realization.

The Civil War has largely been understood through the actions and memorializations of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln has been portrayed as an American martyr for freedom; the wiseman that America needed to save the union and end slavery.  For most Americans, he is the Great Emancipator.  Steven Spielberg’s saccrahine biopic of ol’ Abe does nothing to dispel this notion. Ken Burns famous Civil War documentaries lionized the railsplitter as a stirring genius. But, the story of the Civil War, Lincoln, slavery and emancipation is more complicated than people like Spielberg or Burns lead us to believe.

As most serious historians now agree, African-Americans, and slaves specifically, were constantly forcing Abe’s 5.6.contraband-in-williamsport-camp-of-13th-MA-from-Mollushand, pushing him in a more radical direction than he hoped, or planned, on going. As soon as the war started, and as soon as Union troops invaded the south, slaves fled to Union lines. These enslaved American men, women and children wanted freedom, and just like the English army and navy in 1776 and 1812, the Union military provided an obvious opportunity.  For some racist Union leaders, these runaways were simply annoyances that should have been returned to their ‘rightful owners.’ But, for the savvier officers, the slaves were crucial to defeating the Confederacy. Not only would the runaways help the Union war effort as laborers, they simultaneously crippled the rebels fighting ability. African Americans had created the south; they produced the wealth, the food and the identity of Dixie.  Without them, the rebels would find that the war would be much harder to win on the battlefield and the homefront. Lincoln was not on board initially, and was troubled regarding these people who were taking freedom for themselves.  In 1861, he said, ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists…I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”  However, as the trickle of African Americans taking their freedom became a flood, and as it became clear that these men and women would not be turned away, Lincoln finally took pragmatic action.  By 1863, he was ready to proclaim that the war was being fought for a ‘new birth of freedom.’ African-Americans understood this long before he did.

In 1776, 1812, 1829, 1831, 1861, and many other years in-between and after, African-Americans changed the way America understood freedom. Thousands of forgotten, and quite literally nameless men and women took revolutionary action for ideals Americans hold sacred. The freedom they fought for, and died for, should be bigger than one day in July, or one month each winter. Their actions should be celebrated all year long.