Sometimes Dog Bites Man Really Is the Story – And We Keep Missing it

This is the transcript of The James Cameron Memorial Lecture entitled ‘Democratic Inbalance:Who Decides What’s News” delivered at City University in London on Monday February 22nd

AS a language student during the dying days of the Soviet Union I lived with a woman and her son in what was then Leningrad and now St. Petersburg. Every week day evening around 8.45pm my hostess would get herself ready to take their dog, a cocker spaniel called Redek, for a walk. Since I’m no lover of the cold and not a great lover of dogs I would watch with bemusement as she readied herself and Redek for the trip to the local park. By 8.55 she’d be out the door. You could set your watch by it.
Everybody has their routines and I thought little of it until Spring came and I decided, one night, to accompany her. I noted a slight urgency in her voice as she stood by the door, lead in hand, while I combed the flat for my hat. We made it out on time – though on time for what wasn’t exactly clear – and arrived at the park to find scores of dog owners already there. “What’s this?” I asked. “It looks like a meeting.”
“We call it the “dog hour”,” she explained. “It’s when the state news, Vremya, is on. We don’t want to listen to the propaganda so we walk our dogs.”

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A Civil Conversation Between Friends

Following my previous article the Network of Public Education published a response on their website reprinted here in full which they have sent as a letter to the Nation. Below is my response to their letter which I have also sent to the Nation. Long may such exchanges continue.

NPE response to questions about diversity

May 1, 2014 NPE News
A recent article in The Nation critiqued the “unbearable whiteness of the left.” In that article, the author took issue with a grassroots panel at the 2014 NPE conference that was led by four White individuals. Having a grassroots panel that did not include people of color leading the discussion was a mistake. However, we do not want to minimize the participation of the many panelists of color who led discussions during the NPE conference – 34 panelists of color, out of about a hundred total.

We do not raise this as a defense in relation to the oversight on that particular panel, but to highlight and underscore that our priority is to partner with diverse stakeholders across the nation. The work we share, challenging the misguided “reforms” we see damaging our children and communities, calls for us all to work to overcome overt and covert discrimination. We continually seek to strengthen our connections with one another, and ensure that the voices of all are included and heard. The Network for Public Education is just over a year old. We were honored to host stakeholders from the across the nation in Austin this year and look forward to standing together with friends and allies in coming years as we build alliances across the nation to support the best education possible for all of our children.

Diane Ravitch, Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Robin Hiller, Anthony Cody, Mark B. Miller, Leonie Haimson, Phyllis Bush, Colleen Doherty-Woods, Bertis Downs (Network for Public Education Board of Directors)

May 2 2014
When “Oversights” Become Patterns

The lede highlighted this particular panel at the Network for Public Education conference not because I believe the NPE is the worst offender in this regard but because both the all-white panel and the response to the question raised about it were so emblematic of a broader problem—the degree to which people of color and low-income people are marginalized within organizations on the “Left” in general.
There are only so many isolated “oversights” one can reasonably acknowledge before it is necessary to understand them as part of a pattern. And if we are serious about challenging that pattern then the demands and participation of people of color and low-income people must be integral to the agendas and workings of progressive movements, like NPE, from the base to the board. (According to your website of your 9 board members only one appears to be a person of color. I cannot speak to its class composition)
That pattern emerges from America’s history of economic and racial inequalities. It didn’t emerge from one panel and isn’t limited to the question of representation. As such the central issue is less about diversity than racial and economic justice.
As I wrote in the piece this “should be a civil conversation between friends.” Such conversations demand both generosity and honesty. It is precisely because I support the agenda of the NPE that I want it to be effective. I’m glad you exist. I want you to thrive. For that to be possible you will not only need people of color and low-income people to be friends and allies. You will need them to be you.
Gary Younge

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