#FashionPolitics: A Week of Grassroots Activism On the National and International Stage

This week, people who care about the working conditions of the women and men who make our clothes commemorate the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster with grassroots creativity. How? By asking everyone to consider this question: “Who Made My Clothes?”

Over the course of one year, global ethical fashion activists with .orgs have sprung into action by launching digital hashtag campaigns on the topic of poor labor standards in the garment manufacturing industry.

For example, fashionrevolution.org launched a stunning Twitter campaign (#FashRev) with the Who Made My Clothes? theme. Organizers ask that everyone wear their clothes inside out to call attention to poor working conditions. The end goal is greater transparency and improved conditions throughout the garment manufacturing process, from supply chain through distribution.

I would like to see greater attention paid to this cause.  For my part, I will do my best to learn as much as I can about new initiatives created by the Obama administration regarding Pacific trade.



Internet Freedom Situated within a Brazilian Frame of Reference

In her book, Sorcery of Color: Identity, Race, and Gender in Brazil, author Elisa Larkin Nascimento suggests it is crisis that sets the stage for social change. Nascimento writes, “While criticism induces the articulation of paradigms, it is crisis – criticism made tangible by social agents and movements and their impact – that creates the impulse for change in society and cultural movements” (13). Nascimento’s words set the context for my proposition, that a discussion of Internet Freedom is a discussion about crisis. Another template for a discussion on “Internet Freedom” is 1930s Great Depression-Era Brazil, which positioned cabaret and carnivale culture as an antidote to the alienation experienced by marginalized groups. The Internet is not unlike the commonplace of the 1930s Brazilian Lapa neighborhood with its proliferation of cabaret, carnivale, and spectacle in the midst of social turmoil.

The cabaret provided an alternative to alienating societal institutions of the time that excluded individuals based on class and other factors including sexuality and colorsim. Using the past to reflect upon the present, I see the Internet as an antidote to forms of social exclusion with neutrality being the mainstay of the Internet.

Questions we who are concerned about “Internet Freedom” may ask include:

  1. How is the Internet a political tool?
  2. To what extent is the Internet a politicized discourse?

I see the Internet as an effective tool for democratizing humanitarian action. Through the Internet, we send aid to victims of natural disasters. Twitter provides updates on news out of Ferguson, MO. Although the Internet reveals the best and the worst of humanity, what remains unclear is the extent to which the Internet can transmit acts of beneficence and reciprocity for diverse groups of people, and individuals. We must keep the Internet free and neutral in order to explore the limits of human potential.

Work Cited

Nascimento, Elisa Larkin. Sorcery of Color: Identity, Race, and Gender in Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

San Gabriel Mountains: Now a National Monument for “Social Justice”

IMG_1318Almost a year ago (to the day), I met the the ruins of the “White City” at the top of the San Garbiel Mountains. My companions and I took a path, at times narrow, and with soil like sand, and then, one sharp turn later, a path hard, wide, and true with overhanging trees, and sharp views of the ruddy-colored ravine. Sun blazed upon my shoulders. My camera strap burrowed into my skin, the camera weight unbearable, until I reached the top. The crisp, clean air welcoming me home. “Hello, helloooooooooooooo!” My voice kissed the mountains. My ears reverberated with the sound, not of my voice, by my echo. Humbled, I imagined people younger than I experiencing these sensations for years to come.

Now, as of this past Friday, due to a special order by President Obama, these San Gabriel Mountains are a National Monument. The order promotes access for all, according to Obama.

But Why?

When I told my college students the news, I received quizzical looks. First, many had not heard the news. Then, some wanted to know, “But why?” Earlier this semester our readings and research touched on climate change, and the California drought. We talked about the scarcity of water. The challenge of access to clean air. Somehow though, the conversation did not include access to the mountains for the purpose of recreation. Nor, for that matter, had we discussed the beach as a land formation accessible for the sake of recreation.

Manifest Destiny

When I asked how many of my students had hiked the San Gabriels, fewer than half raised their hand. But why? How could this be, I wondered. I was led to believe that part of California lore is the notion that one can seek adventure whenever and wherever, from the beaches to the mountains, often in the same day. “Manifest Destiny” is the cliched term often attached to this notion of elite adventure. Why elite? Because such presumption of access demands a lifestyle not in conformity to work hours. Manifest Destiny implies freedom. Yet, this phrase comes with the baggage of colonization.

In order to prepare for our discussion about the San Gabriel Mountains, my class and I read the essay, “My Indian Daughter,” by Lewis Sawaquat. In this essay, Sawaquat, a former U.S. government worker, tells the story of growing up in an American Indian community before joining the army. I also selected for this discussion, Dorothea Lange’s photo “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1935, the same year as Sawaquat’s birth. We concluded with “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie, only rather than focusing on the music, we analyzed the song’s lyrics and found novel ways to replace words in the song with similar words, a move designed to enhance fluency.

From these in-class assignments, we learned about the fragility of American communities. We learned that some residents in towns such as Harbor Springs were treated differently than others based on their ethnicity to the extent that their appearance in public faced scrutiny. We learned that American citizens were displaced from their land due to environmental changes beyond their control. We learned that while most of us grew up singing that catchy tune about our nation’s pride, the land, we did not learn learn the parts of the song that refer to poverty.

Democracy cannot live without freedom, Aristotle teaches us. The announcement that part of the nation’s wilderness was now protected, came as surprise to us, but a surprise that came with the responsibility to learn more about the context for such an act. Students of English exercise their freedoms through decoding stories and images carrying messages about the past.

I Learn from My Students

My first Fall teaching English at a bustling community college just outside of the City of Los Angeles lends means, I too learn. I learn about a California struggling with the concept of identity. What does culture mean? For the majority of my students, who are kind, eager, and ready to help others, the Manifest Destiny lifestyle of beach-to-mountain adventure comes with the added challenge of negotiating jobs, family demands, and changes in lifestyle. Therefore, a five-mile, 1,500-ft. hike might not be at the top of the to-do list, for most of my students. However, in time and with added attention from the Federal Government, I hope that recreation for community college students will become a priority. This would include trips to the mountains. This would include the addition of courses in cultural studies, ecology, sustainability, health and wellness, and creative arts.

To bring the good life to the classroom means eliminating the ideological barriers to growth. It means practicing inclusion, but with the expectation that today’s students are tomorrow’s designers, and cultural leaders.

Journey to the Place of Low-Hanging Clouds

Dry air heading up the mountain combined with white-bright sunshine made the task seem unbearable. But after my first experience hiking the San Gabriels, my courage grew. My desire to access those challenging trails coincided with a desire to re-fashion my entire calendar. I wanted to re-make my life to coincide with experiencing the pure mountain air. Was this simply a desire to escape reality? I struggled to understand. One late, cloudy morning, I hit the trail yearning for nature’s air conditioning. About 20 minutes on the trail, I noticed a small group of laconic youth socializing off trail. I think they were as surprised to see me as I them. The mountain ravine served an alternate purpose, an interpretation of Manifest Destiny different, perhaps, from that of students whose lives are removed from the challenges of adding homework assignments and school projects to a calendar that is already jammed with responsibilities, familial, and work-related.

When does anyone have time to enjoy the splendor of their own back yard? I hope my students do have the time to enjoy the San Gabriels.

I sought to recreate the initial experience with a hike on a cloudy day, alone, enshrouded in low-hanging clouds. Here I am. My chest expands with cool clean air. A hike, 1,500 ft. high, on narrow trails bordered by valley and mountain taught me to appreciate this treasure. Life. The San Gabriel’s, are a respite from the smog-laden air of Los Angeles, where beauty surely exists. Yet, the San Gabriel Mountains, now monument, await me even when I have reached my limit. Step-by-step, I know I will make it to the top. I need to overcome aching feet and legs. Legs weak from dehydration and from sitting at the library, hours upon hours, reading about ordinary people who changed the world. I needed to reconnect with trees, wind, and fog. I tried hard to go all the way, and then, wind and freezing rain nudged me back down the path, down toward street parking. Exalting in my joy at going it alone, I performed some jumping jacks, smashing my iPhone on the craggy asphalt. A spider web faced me as “Wrong,” by Everything But the Girl blared in response to my shattered expression.

There, confronted by my arrogance, I remembered I was introduced to the majesty of California by someone special. There were times when I wanted to give up. Get back in the car. “Come on! Come on,” was the reply. Whenever my foot landed upon a spot in the trail that I thought might give way, my strength grew. My strength grew, even when my ankles felt weak. Survivors know that even when they feel like giving up, the next turn in the trail may reveal something new.

Social Justice

Fewer than half of my Saturday-morning writing students said that they have hiked the San Gabriel Mountains. As President Obama noted in his speech declaring the mountains a national monument, these mountains are within miles of many students’ homes, yet most of the students have not had the experience I have had, that of someone leading the way up the mountain, making sure that mountain air and mountain streams are as much a part of my vocabulary as the freeways. The awe of experiencing nature, unscripted, that is the joy of hiking the San Gabriels. Yet, my students’ own experience of Los Angeles is just as valid. Still, I am awed that our nation’s President has named these mountains a national monument. My students have the opportunity to expand their recreational options and lexicons.

Los Angeles rocks. Yet, the mountains demand stillness. Welcome!

High on Reading: “Freeway” Ricky Ross Talks about Literacy at San Bernardino Valley College

SAN BERNARDINO, CA — Sentenced to life in prison in 1996, “Freeway” Ricky Ross had time to confront one of his biggest problems, other than being a legendary kingpin. Ross spoke to an audience of community leaders assembled on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College.

Maximum security incarceration meant days without sunshine, but Ross kept his mind active through reading books, a total of 300. Whilst in the middle of a reading frenzy in the law library, he discovered facts about the law that helped to reduce his life sentence and get him out of prison in 2009. In addition, a reporter’s discovery that one of Mr. Ross’s connections was working for powerful domestic and Latin American forces, also led to a review of his case and a reduction of his sentence.

Fighting against illiteracy

It was in prison that Ross, now in his 50s, and a published author, tackled the problem of his illiteracy. Among one of his many favorites, the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Ross encouraged educators to find out what kids are interested in learning about, and then get them relevant reading materials in order to ignite their passion for reading.

He recalled school and wanting to play college tennis, but not being able to enter college due to illiteracy. There were no alternatives: no tutors, no development programs for youth with the desire to contribute positively to society.

Unfortunately, there were adults near schools who were willing to get kids set up in the drug business. This is something Ricky Ross thinks about today. “I never saw a lawyer before until one was representing me in court,” he said highlighting one of the biggest problems facing communities: lack of integration and lack of access to diverse people. This was echoed by one of his childhood friends in the audience who stated that without exposure to people who are well-educated, or who have stable and lucrative legitimate careers, kids will not know much else except the underworld.

“Before, I judged my success by money,” he said after explaining that his speaking engagements on the subjects of literacy and crime are what inspire him to succeed, now. “But we can’t judge success by what kind of shoes somebody has on or what kind of clothes somebody has on. Otherwise, that makes a kid willing to do whatever it takes to get that status. And that’s where we are right now in this society. See, we don’t have a high value on education. I mean, we can look at what teachers get paid.”

One of the most important lessons Ross learned was that investing in oneself is one of the best investments anyone can make. “What I noticed is that what the books told me is working.”

Ross recounted his story to educators, legal professionals, activists and community members on Friday, August 8, 2014. During question and answer time, one audience-member told Ross that his story reminded him of the classic Frederick Douglass text, My Bondage and My Freedom. His enthusiasm for public speaking and for reading is only slightly equal to his zeal for traveling in order to promote his new book Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography, written with Cathy Scott.

One of his current joys is talking with young people about their future. He speaks to youth, to college students, and to professional students, having given talks at UCLA and USC, among other educational institutions. “We have to bring our kids around people who they can associate with. We have to let our kids

The publisher of the Inland Valley News mentioned that many kids are fascinated with gang life. “What can we do as educators to turn the tide away from thug life?” Ross quickly countered with, “Let me talk with them.” The point being that it sometimes takes someone with a similar life experience to make an impact on someone’s life.

Reflecting on his own experience in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ross said he is not an advocate for more schools, but he is an advocate for better teaching.

“Teachers need to change the way they teach. The way they talk about our kids,” he said. “Napoleon Hill talks about a burning desire, a person with a burning desire, they’re going to get up and take action,” he said. Napoleon Hill, born in the late 1800s, authored the book Think and Grow Rich.

Ross got a lot of questions from the audience about how to promote literacy for youth.

Children will learn best, Ross said, when they are presented with subjects that interest them, such as money. Ross said he became an expert in crime because he was surrounded by crime. “There were very few people [when he was growing up] who could have told me how to buy a house, or how to be a real estate agent, or to be a lawyer. It’s hard to tell a kid to go be productive in school when they perceive that it is not relevant to them. I didn’t know a judge or a lawyer until I was in court.”

Members of Ross’s home community from the Susan Miller Dorsey High School-area, where he grew up, were in the audience. They echoed the need for children to gain exposure to highly educated, caring adults.

This event was sponsored by The Inland Empire Minority Led Resource Development Coalition, a group representing multiple agencies, and leaders working for the common good. Among the organizations in attendance were Curbside Community Center, San Bernardino Unified School District, United Way of San Bernardino County, County of San Bernardino Behavioral Health, and San Bernardino County Board of Eduction, and The Urban Excellence Trainings.

Raise the Wage


How has the quality of your life improved in the past five years since the last federal minimum wage increase from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour? One debate is whether an increase in the minimum wage will lead to an increase in prices. Another debate is whether an increase in the minimum wage will stimulate spending causing the economy to grow.

I spoke with a recent graduate of a professional certification program who faces student loan debt. This person stated an increase in the federal minimum wage would be used to pay down debts.

Should The United States raise the federal minimum wage?