Phoenix Question: What is your creative outlet?


Kim: I love making up hypothetical scenarios inspired by real things – like societies and people and environments. I think how much fiction I read as a child always got me thinking about “what ifs” and literary interpretation and analysis in college kept that imaginative spirit alive. I don’t really enjoy writing creatively myself, but I like thinking of new ways to look at what already exists. In my Shakespeare class last fall I was once accused of making “Shakespearean fanfiction” because I came up with so many possible scenarios for interpreting what characters were doing. It’s great with old literature because it is impossible to ever know what an author meant, so critical and creative thinking can really emerge.

Mat: Its interesting to see the diverse responses about our creative outlets because frequently when we ask people “Do you think your creative” the resounding answer is no. What do you think is the disconnect? For me my creative outlet is my writing and the moment when I overcome the scariest of the blank white page and find a voice for my story.

Cara: Mine is art journaling and i discovered it through an online course I took last fall!

 Paula: Like Evan, my creative outlet doesn’t lead to a definite product. My outlet is paying attention and thinking–finding and contemplating ideas–in order to understand and enjoy my world. When I was a journalist, a lot of these observations and ideas were recombined into stories. As a teacher, they are recombined into assignments, discussion, and occasionally research. As a technology junkie of the current age, you’ll find much of my thinking articulated on Facebook. I don’t write fiction or poetry. I don’t paint or draw or craft. I cook, but with a recipe. But I do think I’m creative, and I think what I’ve created–and continue to create–is a life for me and my family and friends and students and, well, anyone who comes into contact with me (like the two gentlemen this morning who heard me raving about the first strawberries of the season and who got explicit directions for where to locate the stand where they’re being sold and now I hope they are enjoying strawberries, too!).

Steve: I enjoy constructing crossword puzzles and sharing them with others. When I was an Elon student I was fortunate to have a few of them published in the Pendulum. Wouldn’t mind doing it again either!

Evan: My creative outlet is looking (yes looking!) in order to see and know things differently. This is not something I “discovered” rather it is something my discipline (Art History at Elon) taught me. I’ve dedicated my life to this process (and not just my scholarly life) and hope my looking (and the writing that comes from this looking) sparks debate, more thinking, and yes, looking.

Jason: My creative outlet is Twitter. It’s an artistic challenge to convey a message in 140 characters, which I found by tweeting!

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Sam: Dance. I grew up dancing since I could practically walk, so it has been a large part of my life. However, I did not necessarily understand or fully realize that dance has been an ‘outlet’ for me to destress and express myself. There is so much that can be said and explained through the movement of our bodies, and for me, much of that realization occurred when I got injured and could no longer dance. This happened towards the end of my high school ‘career’ which in turn (along with other things) prohibited me from pursuing dance as a major. Not having dance in my life full-time has definitely been a difficult thing, but I have found ways to keep it alive: taking a few classes here at Elon, choreographing pieces for shows, and of course, dancing in the kitchen, despite being on the second floor. Sorry neighbors below us! Dance has so much to offer and is truly therapeutic. I know it will always be apart of my life in some form or another, but I am excited to see how it will continue.

Sarah: I am obsessed with SnapChat. I take it very seriously. I found that I am very good at drawing with my finger and I am so proud of the snapsterpieces I create (SnapChat term, not mine). One of my favorite things to do is a series called Shark Week, where I filmed clips of people I run into and draw a shark eating them over the picture. There’s something very cathartic about SnapChat for me. I’m very much a control freak, but having that small piece of art available for only an hour reminds me to live in the present. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m very serious about SnapChat. I’m attaching my most recent SnapChat. I drew this one when I was feeling particularly blue about not having pets in my apartment complex.




By: Anthony Weston

I teach a variety of courses here, but whenever I can I find a way to ask my students to chose totems: animals, or places, or forces of nature, with which they identify and whose power and magic in some way they feel they share. Many pick specific animals: Cat or Dog, Dragonfly, Elephant, Stringray, Deer. A runner may be Cheetah. Some pick favorite places, places that speak to them, like Beach. Some are waves, there is the occasional tree, sometimes Wind or Rain or Lightning or Sun. Other choices are more poignant. A Lousianian, post-Katrina, declared herself Hurricane. A partly Native American student told us he is Buffalo: in his dreams he becomes a buffalo, runs with his fellows, and can ask them to take him other places or into other identities in turn. And unlike most students, he did not choose this totem: it was his from birth, his clan animal.

Don’t think, I say, that you are doing all the choosing. It’s at least as true that our totems choose us. Are there animals that regularly come to you, in dreams or awake? What animals? Perhaps you have even had specific encounters, numinous or electrifying, that stay with you? Are there days when all the world seems alive to you and you are “in your element”? What is that element?

We take some time in special sessions to declare ourselves and then to speak from the totem’s place: to inhabit, as fully as we can, that animal being or natural place or force. Different classes unfold it differently. My last Global class spent most of the term representing world countries, organizations, and figures, taking part for example in a Model United Nations session representing a third of the Security Council. At the end, I said: now I invite you to embrace some standpoints beyond the human, and at the same time to come back to yourselves, especially as new college students in a stage of identity-seeking and -shifting. Are you alone in this, or do you – could you – have help: guides and identifications beyond the merely human? Who might they be? Students declared themselves right in class – eager and fascinated to hear what others had chosen, offering their own totems tentatively yet proudly – and right away we had a new “Council”, new lines of affiliation and points of view.

Already there’s a certain magic in it. Students notice, once they’ve chosen and declared their totems, that their own and others’ totems start showing up in unexpected places and ways: across our paths, on the Web, in our dreams. I hadn’t seen bunnies for years on campus until one of my Global students chose Bunny: within days you could not turn around without seeing bunnies. Another in the same class was Shark (partly on account of a diving encounter, face to face): now, class over, I am still sending him links to shark films that won’t stop turning up on my listservs. Yet another is Dragonfly, and this seems to be the summer of, yes, dragonflies.

We borrow from the Council of All Beings at a session where we appear as our totems, to deliver both warnings and gifts to each other and the world. This class met for our Council at dusk at the fire pit at the Lodge. It was our last meeting as a class, our “Final”. Thunderstorms were predicted –­ a major front was coming through – and the evening skies were grey, but we gathered outside anyway, started the fire, began to speak. Turtle offered his patience, deliberateness: precisely the ability to go slow. Shark, the reminder that the world’s most self-congratulatory animal (guess who) needs to seriously temper his arrogance in the waters. Sun offered eternal light. Between totems, the crickets and the frogs spoke up: we gave them their turns too, waiting until they paused for Owl (that was me, in my owl-head mask and academic gowns: actually my personal totem is Daddy Longlegs, but my – philosophy’s – disciplinary totem is the Owl) to sound the drum for the next speaker.

In another, more recent class doing the same thing, I had a co-teacher, Frances Bottenberg, better able to observe than me in my owl mask, who made a striking observation afterwards:

I actually had an eerie sense that [students’] faces and postures took on something of their animal (or plant or elemental) alter-egos when they began to speak about their connections to their [affinities]…. Bear had a growl in his voice I hadn’t noticed before… cat seemed calmly twitchy like cats are, ready to spring or lounge at the drop of a hat… The way Otter moved her hands as she talked reminded me of the way otters play with objects in the water, turning them over and over… Cloud was always glancing up, maybe taking all this lightly, as if from above… Shark’s teeth glinted, especially when she said she “always follows the blood”! Oh, and of course there was kindly but stern owl, who was so owl-awkward trying to look at his poem with one eye, and then the other… I could list more…

In the Global class, Owl ended with a toast to the students, looking back over their first year of college, best wishes for the summer. And as I raised my paper cup at the end, just after my last word, there was the first peal of thunder. A startling grace note, perfectly timed. Amen.

The students drank their sparkling cider. Then, shedding mask, I invited them to fill their cups in their imagination with whatever they wanted to leave behind from this first year of college, as well as whatever part of their totem they now wanted to give back to the world – and then to throw their “full” cups into the fire. As they did – many now in tears – the flames leapt up one last time. But by now the lightning was crackling too, mirroring the fire. We said rushed goodbyes. They sprinted, still only half returned to human, across the woods for their cars. Within half a minute, it was pouring – the start of a solid day of desperately needed hard rain. Vine Deloria writes somewhere about how Europeans consistently misunderstand Native peoples’ rain dances as means of manipulating or producing rain. Observers turn cynical when they realize that the shamans only begin rain dances when it appears that rain is in the offing anyway. But no, says Deloria: the function of the rain dance is not to produce rain but, as he puts it, to participate in the emerging event – which is why of course you only dance when the rain is practically upon you. So this was our rain dance: a taste of what “participating” in the larger-than-human world could feel like.

Only the barest taste, of course. I don’t know, in all honesty, what the students will carry forward from this – it is so foreign to the frames of reference that we normally take to define reality. Little in the rest of their education or experience will reinforce or deepen or repeat it. Totems do have a certain sticking power: people tend to remember their totem being, at least. (I certainly do: most of the students I remember from these classes always come with their totems in my mind, or come to mind now when I see chameleons or dragonflies or sharks…) More than a few students, over the years, have become actively involved with the plight of endangered totem animals or places. The magic, though, is harder to hang onto – and harder to recognize in the first place. We no longer have the categories; certainly (ironically and poignantly) they are seldom offered to young people, who might need them the most.

Another year, another class met at the Lodge, a former church camp about a mile from campus (we bike or carpool) with a lake, a few shelters, a building with fireplace for when it is too cold to meet outside, large grassy areas where we can sit in the sun on blankets in a circle. Most of all it offered us relative quiet – this was, alas, before the bypass went in – the chance to be outside without distraction, with alert senses for once, in good company: with the winds that are always active; the turkey vultures wafting about and checking us out, along with the occasional hawk and chittery kingfisher; sun and the falling leaves; and, at the start of that memorable Fall term, lots of rain and thunderstorms as a succession of hurricanes brushed by. We spent a lot of our first few weeks meeting in the shelters.

For that class we declared our totems around a smoky bonfire on a cool afternoon at the Lodge’s fire circle. Windy, too, with low clouds scudding by: the smoke blew everywhere, and there was a lot of it, so we all went to our next classes smelling like we’d been camping all week. That year it turned out I had Rain; Dolphin; Jaguar (a Mexican woman with Huichol roots, whose distant shamanic ancestors might well have been jaguars too); Salmon and Bear; and many others. Everyone declared themselves and was ritually welcomed into the circle.

We also had Great Blue Heron. As it happened, we had seen a Great Blue here at the lake below the Lodge, once, early in the term. But she’d never been back, though one end of the lake seems like good heron feeding-ground. Still, the heron’s appearance that one day was part of the reason D. chose it for her totem, I think. The other part was some kind of quiet grace, a body that could be ungainly but in fact had an unmatched elegance; and a quickness too. Long periods of utter stillness punctuated by the lighting strike of the beak. Imagine the inner life.

Then came the day that D. who was also Great Blue Heron was to present her term project on animal-animal, cross-species communication. We’d spoken, often, of human-animal communication, but she wanted to go several steps farther, to look at a bigger picture. Usually she’d been very quiet and did not say much, though she was a lovely and animated person when she got going. Now she had just begun to speak, already with that same animation and self-possession, the first time for a while we had heard her speak like this. Everyone sat up a bit straighter, smiled. But now just as quickly our eyes were drawn up and behind her. D. was sitting with her back to the lake: suddenly a shadow had floated by to her right and then spiraled down toward the water. Today of all days, this exact moment of all moments, Great Blue came back. She floated  down to the brilliantly sunlit end of the lake, in full view, the deeper part where feeding is (I’d think) not so good, landed in the most graceful way right in the brightest sun. There she stood for maybe half a minute, looking us over and showing herself just enough, and then just as elegantly took back off, skimmed the water down to the other end of the lake, landed and proceeded to hunt up the stream and out of sight.

We were stunned into silence. No missing the magic here, categories or no. I seriously wanted to end class right there, despite just having begun – what could you do after that? It was D.’s day, though, and she had a lot to say. So after a time we collected ourselves and began to speak again. Still, in a certain way, everything had already been said, or (more accurately) done. We came back to that Visit repeatedly in every reflection on the class for the rest of the term. No one who experienced that moment could have any doubts that animals “communicate,” indeed in a far deeper way than any one us, even D. herself, had yet named or even imagined. What emerged here was something primal, some kind of communicative flow vastly more powerful than language itself, something for which our only available word may once again be “magic” but which hints at far deeper receptivities and harmonies possible in the larger world. Some say that magic only happens to those who are prepared to receive it. Maybe so, in some ways. But the truth must also be more than this: for this way of putting it probably still gives ourselves too much credit. Here, anyway, it feels more as though we were given the merest hint of a pervasive unseen flow, a gift out of pure generosity, and still actually too much to assimilate. The world was just too full; it overflowed at that moment, and there we were.

I would only add: what if the world always is overflowing like this, only D. isn’t always there, so to speak; or maybe we or even she herself didn’t know yet that she was a Great Blue Heron; or maybe it was a bit nippy and we just decided to stay inside? How do we find the key again; how do we awaken again, and this time stay awake, to a world so eloquent that even the tiniest fragment of a line is almost unbearable?


Phoenix Question: How do you Pay it Forward?


Jeff: I pay it forward by buying a meal for someone. A simple way to show you care by paying and simply inviting them to share a meal with you.

Cara: Elon University, Center for Leadership – we’re excited to see what you do for Pay It Forward week! How does the CFL pay it forward?

Jordan: I pay it forward through small actions, like holding the door open, giving a smile, and/or saying thank you.

Cara: I will pay it forward through the work that I’ll dedicate my life to doing. And through trying to be kind to everyone I meet – little and big things both count with pay it forward!

Dana: I bought one of my students a drink at Irazú Coffee and bought my friend Smitty’s ice cream after a nice walk! It was nice to surprise these people with a yummy, delicious, and free treat! I asked both to Pay it Forward to someone else!

Mat: This may sound silly but my favorite method of paying it forward is flipping pennys face up when I see them and hoping that someone will find it and get good luck. I also work to pay it forward through the questions I ask to my friends, peers, and everyday people I meet, striving to make people feel noticed and heard.

Bob: Paying it forward this week is an excellent start, but I challenge everyone to take this idea a step further and ask yourself how you will incorporate this question into the foundation of your life. This quote that I have carried with me for years by Sorious Samura, a filmmaker from Sierra Leone, helps serve as my compass:“If you have the blessings of an education and the opportunity to help change the lives of vulnerable people and you don’t, you should be charged for cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

Jason: I pay it forward by helping or encouraging people who will never have the opportunity to help me in return


An UNhappy Hump Day

Handsome Kenny White Tiger with Cancer and deformed from inbreeding

Handsome Kenny White Tiger with Cancer and deformed from inbreeding

By: Danielle White

“Camels will be on the commons on hump day to celebrate Wednesday, brought to you by SGA.”

When I heard that, I thought it had to be a joke. Unfortunately, not. I walked out of the library at about 1pm, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sure enough I saw two camels being swarmed by Elon students. Being me, I marched straight over to assess the situation. I approached the woman who was holding the leash of one of the camels, and I began asking her some questions.

Some questions you might not have thought to ask (These are from my memory so not exact quotes):

  1. What kind of organization are you? Conservatory? Zoo?
    We travel with our animals to various events. We usually have people ride them, but Elon wasn’t interested in rides.

  2. Why do you have camels?
    My family originally got them when we wanted to do a nativity scene. The person we bought them from (I didn’t catch who) wanted to sell them instead of rent them to us, so we ended up buying them. They are for entertainment purposes.

  3. Where do you get them now?
    We bred them.

  4. What are the facilities?
    We have a farm with various kinds of animals. These camels, horses, miniature horses…

  5. How many acres do you have?
    We had 163, but we just sold off 100. (I think she said they sold them because they are always on the road?)

She kept trying to assure me that they are USDA certified. I can tell you, that did NOT assure me of anything.

Basically, a family of people decided to become a business because they wanted to buy some camels for a nativity one year. It’s a regular farm in the middle of North Carolina. They always come to you. You cannot come visit the animals on their property. They are now breeding them to keep the business going.

I was bombarded with photos of these camels all day, and since I believe in speaking for those who cannot, I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

Animals are not, should not, and can no longer be considered “for entertainment purposes.” We, as a society, need to move away from this ego-centric worldview. Animals in captivity, even those that are treated well, do not have the quality of life that would be afforded them in the wild. Animals are born into the Earth the same as we are, and yet we so easily pass them off as play things, here to entertain and amuse us.

Bringing these animals to our campus is no different than supporting circuses with animal acts, or going to zoos, or visiting places like SeaWorld. I understand it was $1,500 to bring them (information from Elon Local News twitter account). But the amount of money that was spent doesn’t matter. It could have been $2 or $20,000, and the impact would be the same. The treatment of animals in these types of facilitates and for entertainment purposes is poor to say the least. Look it up! Understand where your money is going when you buy tickets for these events. Every dollar you spend is a vote. When you spend money toward animal entertainment like this, you are saying, “Yes. I support the continued awful treatment of these animals, their continued breeding, and the captivity of them for as long as they live (and as short, because animals in captivity die younger than those in the wild).”

I am not saying that if you took a picture with the camels today you are a bad person. I loved the camels too, and I know that every single one of people who took a picture loved them too. I am saying we need to be educated about the impact an event like this has and what it says Elon and the student body accept in regards to the treatment of animals. Get educated, understand the different between conservatory and zoo, bred in captivity and rescued, and plans for release or not.

One student, ONE gave this idea to SGA, and then it was proceeded with. I want to know who made this decision. Whose opinion and permission was given for this event? Did they not think to ask the students if we WANTED this to happen? I never heard about it until the day before. Elon strives to let student opinion be heard. Well, I feel this was a missed opportunity for the voice of those who were unhappy to see these animals carted to our campus. Animal cruelty comes in many forms, some outright, like slashing circus elephants legs to make them move or slaughtering white tigers because they were born with a clef lip or deformed face thanks to inbreeding, or they can be more subtle, like traveling camels across the states for rides and pictures.

They may have only traveled about an hour to get here, in their tiny metal box, but the Carolina Camel Rides website says they go as far as Tennessee and Florida, which could be up to 14 hours away. The quality of life of these camels and other entertainment animals is awful. Some ask, but if they don’t know any better… But guess what? We do. WE know better. Or at least we should. I am asking that we know better for the future. I saw that this was “hopefully going to be an annual event.” Let’s not allow that to happen. Let’s be the educated and compassionate students I know we are and ask SGA and Elon to prevent this from happening again.

As students, we need to stand up and expect better from our university.

Speak for those without a voice.

Phoenix Question: If you had to describe your family to someone using a single story from your past, what would that story be?


Kim: My family is the type of people who would join the Historical Society of Newport, Rhode Island just so we could get a discount on the tours of the old mansions. I think my mom still gets mailings from them. #educationalvacations #always learning

  • Cara: I love those mansions!

Cara: I would describe my family by explaining the traditions we have and the way we celebrate birthdays and Christmas

  • Kim: Tell the story Cara!
  • Stacey: Same here Cara! Sooo many traditions around the holiday

Sam: My family can be described by many of our adventures revolving around snowmobiling. Often times we would take a long weekend to a secluded cabin (without electricity and running water), spend time with family friends playing games, riding during the day, and hittin’ the hay when the light went away!

Mat: I’ve always been jealous of families with strong traditions. I think the best story that describes my family best is us on vacation and us relaxing around eating dessert twice a day and talking with anyone and everyone to learn about the place.

Tom: That’s tough. Different context, different audience, different story. But one story I might tell is a story about my maternal grandmother. When I was a kid, my brother and I spent big chunks of our summers with my grandmother and grandfather in Denver. They were both children of Italian immigrants and lived in an Italian-American community centered around the local Catholic church. During college, some college buddies and I moved to Boulder to spend the summer. I didn’t have a car, but my friend Dick did. I convinced him to drive me to Denvner one Saturday so that I could do some yard work for my grandmother (my grandfather had passed away by this point), while he hung out in Denver. The lure was the promise of a home cooked, Italian meal from my grandmother and her two sisters who lived one door down from her. Homemade past, I promised. She makes it by making a well in a mound of flour, sprinkling some salt, and cracking a couple of eggs into the middle, I told him. You’re going to love it, I said.

That Saturday, after 3 or 4 hours of mowing, hedging, weeding and trimming, it was time for Dick to return so we could all tuck in to a big Italian feast. I assumed that while I was outside, my aunties and grandma were inside cooking. But when Dick arrived and he and I walked to the back door to head in for lunch, my grandma met me at the door with a huge smile on her face. “I’ve got a special treat for you boys,” she said. Dick and I sort of smiled, like, “Yeah, we know!” But then from behind her back she pulled out a coupon and waved it at us. “It’s a buy one get one free at Kentucky Fried Chicken.” She gave it to us, assuring us that she would pay, and then gave us her order, followed by my aunties (who ordered chicken livers, yikes). Dick could have killed me. Of course we laughed about it, even as soon as we got in the car to go get the chicken, but i realized that for my grandmother, who grew up eating homemade pasta and marinara and made her own spicy sausage and grew her own lettuce, that the meal i was so desperate for, and that lured Dick on a day long excursion to Denver, was a sign of her poor upbringing and lacked any of the special significance that I attributed to it. For her, the real treat was something out of the ordinary. And that was fast food. As college students know, my “ordinary” was all too full already with fast food. I never told my grandma about our disappointment. And now it’s one of my most treasured memories, especially as I picture, again and again, the sheer glee with which she flourished that coupon.


Plutocracy, the TPP, and the Millennials’ Next Political Challenge


By: Sean Wilson

In the past couple years, we’ve made amazing progress in the advancement of gay rights. Many states have and continue to legalize same-sex marriage, DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional, and the President of the United States called for equality for our “gay brothers and sisters” in his second inaugural address. There is no doubt that more work needs to be done, but the tide has certainly turned. This is, in large part, due to the work of our generation. Whether they call us “Millennials” or “Generation Y,” on average, this cohort has radically different views on same-sex marriage than past generations — almost 70% of this age group support it! I believe it is only a matter of time until the right to marry is truly universal in the United States. Surely the efforts of the same-sex marriage activists and the members of our generation who have spearheaded this charge against this structural injustice will be recorded in the history books of the future.

While we must never forget our solidarity with the LGBTQIA community, and the ongoing struggle to achieve equality, I propose that our generation now focuses its attention on a different issue — an issue that I believe to be the greatest challenge of our generation: getting money out of politics.

This means that we, as a people, must press our government to pass campaign finance reform laws, thus putting stricter regulations on how much corporations and wealthy individuals can use money to push for their political interests, and increase the transparency of the money flow between donors and those running for political office.

At first thought it may seem a relatively trivial matter, but getting money out of politics is about much more than equality between the rich and the poor (or what Occupiers would call the 1% and the 99%). There is something much greater at stake.

We must get money out of politics in order to retain whatever democratic integrity is left in our society. If we do not begin a broad movement to lessen money’s role in politics, then our political system will increasingly become beholden to the interests of profit-driven corporations and those who have unimaginable amounts of personal wealth.

To understand how our democracy (society ruled by the people) has increasingly taken on the structure of a plutocracy (society ruled by the rich), we should start by looking at the Supreme Court decisions of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commision and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commision. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the court’s conservative majority decided to grant corporations the right of freedom of expression, and further equated expression with money. This ruling thus allows corporations to give as much money as they desire to entities called “Super PACs.” These Super PACs, in turn, can give all of this money to specific candidates. Last month’s McCutcheon did effectively the same thing, except granting individual donors the same abilities. It is worth clarifying that corporations and individual persons still cannot give unlimited amounts directly to specific candidates, but are able to use loopholes, such as Super PACs, to do pretty much exactly that. As Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan write in their dissent, the McCutcheon ruling “creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United… today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

We must keep in mind, as informed citizens, that this is not a simple right-left issue. Democrats and Republicans, (and socialists and libertarians,) needn’t jump to opposite sides of the debate. After all, the campaign finance laws that the Court has essentially “eviscerated” were all part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, as one of the chief sponsors of the bill was Republican John McCain. After the McCutcheon ruling, McCain even stated, “I am concerned that today’s ruling may represent the latest step in an effort by a majority of the Court to dismantle entirely the longstanding structure of campaign finance law erected to limit the undue influence of special interests on American politics… I predict that as a result of recent Court decisions, there will be scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again.” But who will be the force behind the change that is so badly needed if our our politicians are increasingly beholdent to corporate interests? It is our civic duty to act as the catalysts.

Some readers may still be skeptical about the influence of big money interests on our system. Some may think I’m making exaggerated claims. I will provide a simple example to show how this plays out to strengthen my arguments. Let us consider the example of Jim Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma. As the former chairman and a current ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe has repeatedly denied scientific proof of human global climate change, and reportedly has compared the EPA to Gestapo. Can you guess who has been the primary funder of Senator Inhofe since his political career started in 1998?

The Oil and Gas Industry, with a total of $1,587,596. Now I can’t be sure if Inhofe adopts these illogical views because he receives money from this industry, or if he receives money from this industry because he has adopted these illogical views. The chicken-or-the-egg argument is irrelevant, though. The fact is that Inhofe (and people like him) are able to remain in power is, in large part, because of financial support from the oil and gas industry. This industry has an economic interest supporting people like Inhofe, because if his views are translated into legislation, then the industry wins. After all, why would anyone support further taxation or restriction on emissions if climate change is just an elaborate hoax?

As I said before, it is important that we do not frame this as a right-left issue. Although Inhofe is a Republican, we can find similar examples throughout our political system. Nevertheless, many readers who align themselves with the Democratic Party may read this and think to themselves that their party certainly does not represent big-money or corporate interests. After all, many voters likely chose Obama over Romney in the last election due to Romney’s unrelatable CEO steeze. I am afraid, however, that it appears that President Obama is similarly tied up with corporate interests too. I will provide an example that I find to be disturbing and blatantly representative of the trends towards plutocratic governance. Despite the scale of this example’s potential effect, many have never heard of it due it its lack of coverage in the mainstream media.

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What I am talking about is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a “free-trade agreement” under negotiation between the United States and eleven other countries including Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and Chile. Anyone who knows anything about the effects of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should already be skeptical about free trade agreements in general, but the TPP goes above and beyond even that.

TPP negotiations are being conducted in a very secretive manner. Currently, only trade representatives from the Obama Administration, other participating countries, and over 600 corporations are allowed access to the working documents of the TPP. Some members of Congress have been granted very limited access and the only parts of the TPP that the public has been able to view were those released by WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website (in)famous for releasing millions of previously-classified US government documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But why the all secrets? Probably because many of the suggested provisions in the agreement that the public does know about serve the interests of transnational corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens. These provisions simply could not be passed in a democratic manner. Also, as we will see, many of these provisions don’t even have anything to do with trade!

For instance, some of the provisions in the TPP chapter that Wikileaks released are near-identical to the failed SOPA and PIPA laws. The reader may remember the huge democratic protests against these laws back in 2012, with websites such as Google and Wikipedia raising helping raise awareness about measures within the laws that would be detrimental to Internet freedom. If the TPP is passed with these similar provisions, the protests against SOPA and PIPA would prove to be futile.

The TPP would also grant corporations the right to sue governments to demand taxpayers compensation for domestic laws that would restrict future profitability, perhaps force states to lower many environmental standards, and even deregulate Wall Street. In essence, it would trump various democratically passed laws without allowing the greater public any input or information. While all of this is eventually subject to Congress’s vote, the Obama Administration is trying to give the TPP “fast track” status, which would only give Congress the ability to approve or disapprove of the agreement, but not allow Congress to amend or filibuster it.

I encourage the reader to look into the TPP more, but would like to conclude this essay by restating my original argument: the greatest challenge of our generation will be getting money out of politics. We cannot frame this as a right-left issue, but as an American issue; we have seen how both of the main parties have become beholden to special interests. We must tackle this challenge in order to retain the democratic legitimacy of our political system. If we do not, then our system will serve only the interests those with money and profit-seeking motives. If we do not act, then we undoubtedly compromise our livelihood, our health, the environment, and ultimately humanity’s future.

Agreeing to Disagree


By: Kirstin Ringelberg

Recently there was a post on this blog about discussion—about the importance of talking things through, talking things out, really addressing our differences together in conversation. I couldn’t agree more. An important part of that conversation moving forward is that everyone speaking be civil but honest. I say civil because I want to differentiate it from the idea of being polite. My experience at Elon has been that during the day, people are pretty polite. They avoid conflict, they try to find the nice thing to say, and they bottle up what they are really thinking unless they think everyone will agree. It’s a risk-averse mentality, and I get it. But I think one of the consequences of this daytime politeness is a lot of nighttime (and online) behavior that is a lot less polite—and not in a good way. It’s as if the bottling up of real ideas, thoughts, and beliefs during the day, when we could probably discuss them reasonably, turns into rage, confusion, and abuse when we have the security of anonymity or the bravado provided by alcohol or drugs. The things I’ve learned about what happens amongst students outside of my classroom is horrifying, and I think in some way it must be connected to this daytime false politeness, especially when the behavior is sexist, racist, heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-atheist, or otherwise located in attacking those who are not in the mainstream of our campus identities.

Try to find the courage to start saying what you really think during the day. In the classroom. Civilly of course. But stop thinking about politeness, because that somehow seems to include just avoiding when you disagree with someone. Hold the door to Lindner if you see me walking toward it from 50 yards away, if it makes you feel better. But don’t sit silently if I say something with which you disagree. If we don’t disagree in public, during the day, when we have a chance to discuss and learn from our differences soberly and face to face, we don’t learn either how to understand the points of view of others or how to get better at supporting our own views—or changing them. So I would say yes to discussion, and also yes to disagreement. I know a lot of folks at Elon who identify as allies in one way or another, but who don’t step up when there’s real skin in the game, in part because of risk-aversion—because in our community, calling someone out is seen as impolite. But if you don’t step up when you hear something discriminatory, you’re not an ally, you’re actually helping to support the discriminatory behavior. We’re all cowards sometimes, and I hate conflict as much as you do. But practicing disagreeing would help us all be a lot less fearful of the risk of disagreeing with someone when it really counts. Which could lead to much better dialogue about important issues across campus, and a lot less hatefulness outside of the classroom.

It is also an important part of developing as an intellectual. I know—it’s bad enough that I’m discouraging politeness, but now I’m encouraging intellectualism! World turned upside down. But I think this all links together. When I put students in groups for discussion, the students who are more comfortable with the idea of publicly developing their intellects get to work—they get into the conversation, they challenge comments from classmates they think are incorrect (civilly), and they substantiate their disagreement with the texts we’ve read or good argumentation. The students who are polite, who want to fit in with the “normal” folks, or who want to be “popular”, do one or both of the following two things: they talk about how hard, confusing, or stupid they thought the reading/issue is, or they start chatting anecdotally about themselves. This is a way of avoiding real conversations, potential disagreements, and learning. And it works like a virus, spreading through the room, so that now people who might challenge each other and develop healthy, intelligent forms of discussion and disagreement instead “join the club”. From what I’ve seen, the club is politely anti-intellectual during the day and shwastedly posting up hate speech, or worse, at night. Don’t join the club. Learn to civilly disagree instead, and make both the classroom and the dorm better places to be different.