Author: teeuwens

Activism in Europe vs the USA

When I think of activism in Europe and activism in the United States, for some reason activism in Europe seems more violent overtly, whereas activism in the USA definitely seems violent, but seems to contain more covert state sanctioned violence. When I google ‘mai 68 Paris’ for the student protests in France, some of the first pictures that show up include violent confrontations between students and the police.

Similarly, in the case of activism in Italy, I think about ‘gli anni di piombo’, or the years of lead. A tumultuous period in Italian history, that saw many violent attacks, including the bomb explosion in the National Bank in Milano in 1969 and the attack on the train station in Bologna on August 2nd 1980.

To me it seems that in both France and Italy, activism and protests took place with overt use of violence.

Alternatively, when I think about activism in the United States of America, it seems more peaceful from the side of the protestors, while the police backed by the state has been inherently violent, specifically towards Black people. Consider for example the Black Panthers. Their activism did not at all start out violently, yet they were crushed by covert state sanctioned violence. Going back to the year 1968, the treasurer of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Hutton, died at the hands of police violence in Oakland, California, while Hutton was in the process of surrendering. Additionally, the FBI infiltrated the Black Panther Party with the aim to ‘neutralize’ the Black nationalist movement. However, ‘neutralizing’ in this case referred to actively jailing and assassinating many Black Panthers. It therefore seems to me that the US government crushed the movement by means of covert violence, assassinating even some members while they were sleeping – which unfortunately resembles the recent assassination of Breonna Taylor.

“the fascist [government] have already decided in advance to murder Chairman Bobby Seale in the electric chair.” Emory Douglas, March 15, 1970, in Sam Durant, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, (New York: Rizzoli, 2014), 47.

 

Though freedom of speech and assembly are in theory legal in both France / Italy and the United States, the violent response of the US government shows that this right of activism through protesting is not always respected.

Positionality and Behavioral Choices

These two videos clearly show the importance of having resources available to invest in sustainability. I believe that it is a privilege to be able to actively consider living sustainably, when at the same time people globally continue to live below the poverty line. In the video on Copenhagen as the sustainable city of the future the mayor explained that the residents of Copenhagen were actively involved in transforming the city into a carbon neutral city. However, Denmark has the resources to be able to invest in initiatives to help this green transformation. I think the situation in many cities in the Global South is very different. Whereas in the Global North people might move to cities because of employment opportunities, in the Global South it seems that people often move due to rural poverty and desperation. As a result, this leads to ‘pseudo-urbanisation’ (a term coined by Bhaswati Ray in an article on the “quality of life in selected slums in Kolkata”, 2017). Pseudo-urbanization means that a city might be expanding, but there is no expansion in infrastructure to support this greater urbanization. As a result, informal settlements might be enlarging, but this is not coupled with an increase in facilities and employment options, leading to a degradation in the quality of urban life. In the case of pseudo-urbanization, behavioral choices are severely limited by a lack of a supporting infrastructure, as in Nairobi. Copenhagen, in contrast, as a city has the resources to set up sustainable infrastructures, and its residents have the resources to invest in behavioral choices. Our behavioral choices are influenced by the way various states interact with each other and are dependent upon each other. One’s positionality within this web of interdependence thus influences one’s behavior.

Sustainability

To me, sustainability is more than just ‘people, planet, profit’. Though this is a succinct definition of sustainability, I believe it is crucial to also take into consideration other factorsincluding the rights and dignity of the most marginalized, including indigenous peoples and rural communities. To me, sustainability includes interdependence, cosmopolitanism, equity, and anti-racism. I like the image we discussed in class, as this incorporates the idea of ‘people, planet, profit’, but goes further by explaining the way these factors intersect, namely bearable, equitable, and viable.

From the twentyfive images in the document the following image least represents my idea of sustainability:

I believe this image only takes into account the economic and environmental aspect of sustainability. To me, the image mainly focuses on the role of money in sustainability, and fails to address such factors as interdependence, and equity for traditionally marginalized peoples.

There are a few images that I believe explain sustainability in a comprehensive way. This image in particular I like, because it alludes to interdependence and cosmopolitanism:

Particularly, it shows the importance of taking responsibility in living a sustainable life, and the obligation everyone has in caring for the planet, and all that encompasses. Additionally, I think this images provides a good example of collaboration between different peoples, cultures, and countries. It shows that by working together towards a common goal, for example through partnerships, the international community can work towards more sustainability globally.

Another image that explains sustainability in a comprehensive manner is this image:

I believe this image best represents sustainability, as it incorporates the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I believe the UN SDGs provide a good framework to consider sustainability, as these goals show the interdependence within the field of sustainability. Not only does this image encompass people, planet, and prosperity, it also focuses on partnerships, dignity, and justice. Specifically, factors such as dignity and justice are crucial to consider when working towards equitable sustainability.

Intersectionality and privilege

I believe this website was created to show how various factors intersect and either increase or decrease someone’s privilege. Though I like the idea of sliders, I still believe it is hard to calculate a score based on only 13 indicators. Additionally, I think culture has a lot to do with the indicators of why one is more or less privileged. In my opinion, given the greater gender equality within the Netherlands, identifying as a woman as opposed to a man should impact the score less in the Netherlands, as compared to the United States. Additionally, since many services in the Netherlands are publicly funded (i.e. healthcare and education), being rich in the Netherlands seems to be less of a relative privilege in my opinion, compared to being rich in the United States of America. As Bryan Stevenson explained eloquently, the opposite of justice is poverty. In a country where that is much more the case, I believe it is more of a relative privilege to be rich in the US, since wealth buys education and healthcare among many other services, whereas that is not necessarily the case in the Netherlands.

When I calculated my score on the US version of the website, I got a higher score, indicating that I am less privileged in the US than I am in the Netherlands, because I was born outside the US and because English is my second language. Though I can imagine that either of those factors could lead to someone being less privileged, that is not my case, since I am privileged to be bilingual and to come from a wealthy Western European nation. For this reason, I believe it is hard to capture a score with so few indicators, as I do not think that this website seems to be taking into consideration post-colonialism. 

It was interesting to read the comments on the website. Many of the people responding seem to believe this website is satire. However, those same people are responding that white privilege does not exist, and that this “is pure racism towards white Europeans,” which is obviously not true. Though I definitely think that this intersectionality meter is incomplete and could include more factors, I do think it can start to explain intersectionality and privilege, helping people recognize their privilege.

Student Experiences in Europe

As someone who is European and has studied in the United States, it was interesting to read about the stories of American students studying in Europe. I feel like before I went to college in the United States, there were a lot of topics that I had not actively thought about, including racism and sexism. One issue that people in the United States, and students at Dickinson, seem to be actively advocating for is LGBTQ+ issues. American students indicated that in many cases they encountered a liberal environment within the EU in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. Before leaving the Netherlands, I had not given the issue to much thought, since same sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since I was a young child. I learned about the law that legalized same sex marriage in my history class, when I also studied the abortion law legalizing abortion since 1984. For this reason, I never considered either LGBTQ+ rights or abortion as an issue, until I came to the United States. After coming to Dickinson, I remember I was talking to my sister about the fact that no one in the Netherlands ever seems to be advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, as opposed to in the United States. On the one hand, I believe that there really is less of a struggle for LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Netherlands, which would explain why less people are campaigning for it. On the other hand though, I know from stories of friends and family, that there is still a long way to go in terms of acceptance for LGBTQ+ rights within Dutch society.

Before coming to the United States I had also not given as much thought about the issue of racism, unlike I do now. Many of the American students indicated that they faced a lot of racism within Europe, which I can definitely see. Obviously institutional racism exists in the Netherlands, but I believe people tend to blame ‘cultural differences’, rather than critically evaluating the structures of institutional racism, for example in the case of Muslims in the Netherlands. The current protests in the Netherlands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter further underscore the ways through which racism is a part of Dutch society. I remember when I was in high school, we were taught about Dutch colonial history – which is referred to in the Netherlands as the Golden Age, even though the Dutch obviously looted the many countries it colonized. This terminology has been debated the last few years, with musea changing names and descriptions of art work from that period. However, there definitely still is a long way to go.

I often think about how to change societies structurally. Having studied both in the United States and in India, I realized how difficult it is to govern a country and create structural change, in a state so large and with so much diversity. Instead, in the Netherlands, it seems to me that it would be easier to change certain aspects of the society, because everyone watches either one of two news channels, and supports the same national sports teams, and buys groceries at the same six supermarkets. Obviously, the size of the Netherlands makes it much easier to govern. However, I do believe that, given the lesser diversity, issues that should be recognized and debated are not, as people are not realizing the existence and importance of issues.

Cosmopolitanism

One important philosopher within the field of cosmopolitanism is Peter Singer, an egalitarian thinker. Singer argues that every individual has a duty towards other human beings to prevent suffering. As Singer explains,

“If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”

By calling upon people to take their responsibility, Singer strives to minimize inequality globally. Singer calls upon everyone to take responsibility, given that individuals have obligations towards other individuals. These obligations are at the core of cosmopolitanism. In order to truly embrace the cosmopolitan ideal, I believe it is crucial, on a personal level, to first start by educating yourself on issues within your community, and how such issues also exist on a global scale. Moreover, it is crucial to evaluate your own position within the wider systems that are causing such issues. Lastly, one needs to take action to address such issues, given that we have obligations towards others.

The current protests that started following the death of George Floyd are an example of the obligations individuals have towards other individuals. Within the system of institutional racism, black people have been disadvantaged since 1619, while white people have continuously benefitted from their skin color. The global protests are showing that not only a negative duty exists of not being racist, but more importantly a positive duty of actively being anti-racist. Being anti-racist means actively fighting for systems change, in order to set up structures that treat people with dignity, thus leading to more equality. I believe that perhaps by fighting for structural changes within the local community, whatever the issue at hand, individuals are fulfilling (part of) their obligations towards others, thus moving towards the cosmopolitan ideal.

Global Citizenship, Voluntourism, and ‘White Saviorism’

Global citizenship can be characterized by humility, sensitivity, and acknowledgement of the human dignity that everyone is entitled to. Additionally, a large aspect of global citizenship is continuous reflection and acknowledging that all living beings on this earth are interdependent. However, as a result of power inequalities, Western notions are generally privileged within the global citizenship discourse.

In the article “Giving Back: A Special Report on Volunteer Vacations”, Dorinda Elliott contemplates the pros and cons of volunteer vacations, or so called ‘voluntourism’. It seems that in many cases, Western people will go to a community with preconceived notions, and while there, volunteers might only perceive what they expected to see. By having these prejudices, volunteers might think of themselves as “alien angles swooping in to help”. Given this notion of ‘white saviorism’, volunteers might not treat the local community with dignity; thus furthering Western notions, while marginalizing indigenous worldviews. As a result, many volunteer groups are “condescending and insensitive” towards the culture and the local people, in some cases doing “more harm than good”. For this reason, I believe it is important to consider to what extent your actions are selfless and aim to truly help others; and to what extent the actions are selfish, and are benefiting you more than the local community.

Though Elliott provides recommendations for voluntourism, she does admit that people locally could probably do the same job, perhaps even better. However, Elliott concludes that volunteers are needed to get the funding. This leaves me wondering though, if one aspires to become a global citizen, and treat everyone with dignity and respect, wouldn’t it be better to just donate the money?

Or better yet, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the global structures that are leaving some communities dependent upon the West.

Web of Interdependence

Within the last century, as a result of globalization, communities have become more connected, and consequently more dependent on each other. Interdependence is part of every sector of society, and on an individual level part of every aspect of my life: whether it is food that I eat, the education I receive, or the healthcare that is available to me. Interdependence involves every living being on this planet, including the planet itself – though not every individual might consciously recognize that they are a part in the web of interdependence. I believe Parker Palmer explained it in an eloquent manner: interdependence means that individuals are “dependent on and accountable to one another” (as referred to on the Global Solidarity and Local Actions website). Specifically the accountability is an important factor to consider. Individuals are not only responsible for issues in their own communities, but through the web of interdependence also for issues in other communities that individuals indirectly contribute to. As a result of this interdependence, injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.

 

Throughout my life, I have become a product of this web of interdependence, as I have been influenced by various cultures, communities, places, and peoples. First of all, having grown up in the Netherlands, I believe Dutch culture has been partly influenced by its colonial past, trade (in goods, but also trade in ideas), and European integration. Besides interdependence in the Netherlands, I have been influenced by many cultures and peoples after coming to the United States for college. I think through learning from another, and with one another, I have become more interdependent. Additionally, through study abroad experiences, I have further interacted with different communities in different places, from Bologna, Italy to various places in India. All these experiences have made me realize how every living being is involved in the web of interdependence – perhaps even more than I have ever realized, or will ever be able to comprehend.

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