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Okay, so I bought some stickers. Specifically, I had some stickers made. More specifically, I had more than two thousand stickers made.
Each of the stickers is a little less than one inch tall by about five inches long. (Think bookmark, not bumper sticker.) They’re made of vinyl, not paper, and they’re white print on a black background. (The white border you can see in the photo is the backing paper they’re attached to.)
If you’d like some, you can have some. For free. Here’s how it’s going to work.
If you’d like some stickers, fill out this Google Form, giving me your name and address, and telling me how many stickers you want and what you’re going to use them for.
That’s it. If you’d like five or fewer, that’s all you have to do—just tell me you want them, and I’ll send them. I’ll stuff the envelopes, I’ll cover the postage. Everything. (The form is set up for US addresses, so if you’re overseas, you’ll need provide your full address in a comment to your request.)
If you’d like more than five stickers, or you’d like to kick in some money to help cover my costs, that’d be great. (Really great. I’m an adjunct professor, and I don’t make a lot of money. This is an extravagance on my part, not an eccentricity.) Just click here and donate via GoFundMe. (If you donate make sure you include your name so I can match it up with the one on your request form. You can send the name privately if you like.)
How much should you donate? Well, there’s no set charge per sticker, but don’t make me a chump. I’m going to put the first chunk of cash I receive directly into buying more stickers, and I’m hoping this works out well enough to be a model that I can use again in the future without draining my bank account. In other words, if you send me a dollar and ask for five hundred stickers, that’s not going to be sustainable. (If you want more than a hundred stickers, check with me by email before you fill out the form. If you’re not sure whether your donation is too small for the number of stickers you’re requesting, feel free to ask.)
If you’ve got any general questions, feel free to ask them here, but remember to use the Google Form to request stickers.
If you’re concerned about giving out your address, here’s the deal: I’m going to use your info to get you the stickers, and that’s it. I won’t share it with anybody, and I won’t keep it for myself. Pinky promise.
January 27 Update: More than 450 requests for stickers in the first 24 hours, from forty-four states plus Canada, Britain, Austria, and the Netherlands. I’ve already put in an order for more stickers and a whole mess of envelopes and mailing labels, and I’m heading out to buy stamps today.
$1,776 in total donations (no, really) as I write this. We’ve had about one donation for every four sticker requests, which is wonderful—and which is about the rate we need for this project to continue to be self-sustaining.
So if you can donate, that’s amazing—and thank you so much. But if you can’t, please don’t be shy about putting in a request. We’ve got your back.
January 28 Update: Since so many people have asked, and since I’m beginning to get a better sense of the economics of this project, if you’re interested in receiving stickers in bulk, a minimum donation of 50 cents a sticker is a pretty good rule of thumb. At that rate or higher we should be able to keep giving out stickers for free for a while. (Even at that rate, please don’t request more than a hundred stickers without checking with me first, though.)
February 23 Update: Continuing to plow my way through the requests, getting closer and closer to being caught up. Ordered 6,000 more stickers this week, which means that by about two weeks from now I should have completely cleared the backlog. If you have ordered, but haven’t received your stickers, check back here in a bit—I’ll post again when I’m completely up to date, and you can nudge me then if your order went missing. And again, thank you to everyone who’s contributed to the project—you’ve made this possible, and are making it possible to continue.
Okay, so I’m going to say some stuff at the start of this post that’s going to be a bit of a drag, but I want you to stick with me. It’ll be worth it, I promise, and there’s no way around what I have to say at the top without going through it. So I’m just going to jump in, and I’ll meet you on the other side. Here we go…
America’s current crisis isn’t one crisis, it’s a hundred.
We’ve got a crisis in access to medical care, and it’s about to get worse. We’re in a deep crisis in mental health care, and again, it’s about to get worse. Ditto access to reproductive healthcare. Two of the last five presidential elections have been won by candidates who lost the popular vote. That’s a crisis. Because of gerrymandering, vote suppression, and voter clustering, elections in the House and Senate and state races are growing less likely to reflect the will of the electorate. That’s a crisis. The interference of American intelligence agencies with the just-concluded presidential election is a crisis, as is the likelihood that we will never get a full accounting of that interference.
Also a crisis: Police violence against people of color, and police impunity when such violence is committed. The Republican Party’s manifest unwillingness to hold the Trump administration accountable for conforming its actions to the constitution. Rising income inequality and persistent poverty. The incompetence and malignance of so many of the administration’s appointees. Their plans to dismantle public schools and universities, undermine academic freedom, and open up the public-money spigot to predatory for-profit colleges. The weakening of international organizations and agreements. The undermining of essential diplomatic relationships. Threats to free speech and scientific research and the arts and the climate.
And of course there’s so much more I could add to the list. (I didn’t even mention the Russians.) No one person can fight all of it.
…you still with me? Excellent. Because here’s the good news:
No one person can fight all of this, but no one person needs to. Wherever you put your effort in the coming days and years, your effort is needed. Whatever work you do to fight this crisis is important work. What’s vital is not what precisely you do, but that you do something—that you pitch in and lend a hand.
It’s easy to imagine that there’s one crucial path to preventing the trainwreck we’re watching unfold, and that our obligation is to find that one thing to do—impeaching Trump, saving ACA, ending voter suppression—and do it. But that’s not how this works. We need to fight on every front at once, because all the work is necessary. That may seem overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be, because again, nobody can do it all, and nobody needs to.
The work is ongoing, on a hundred fronts. All you need to do is be a part of it, somehow, somewhere. Everything helps. Everything is vital.
And here’s some more good news: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re someone with loads of organizing experience and lots of resources and a robust network of fellow activists and you see a gap in the existing web of work and you want to jump in and fill it, that’s great. That’s happening all over the place right now, and it’s great. But if you’re not any of those things—if you’re new to all this and want to help but don’t really know what you’re doing—that’s okay too. It’s better than okay, actually. It’s wonderful. Because it means that the struggle to fix what’s wrong with the world has one more person in it today than it did yesterday, and building that struggle is how we win. So hi, and welcome, and thank you!
So how do you get involved if you haven’t been involved before? One of the best ways is to find a group that has been involved before, and help them out. Most of these crises aren’t new, and none of these struggles are. Trump is making things worse, but he hasn’t invented anything. People have been fighting people like him, and stuff like the stuff he’s trying to do, for decades. Centuries. They know how to do this. They’ve been doing it. They’re doing it right now. And they’d love to have your help.
So start brainstorming. Is there an organization you’re a fan of but have never been involved with? Google them, and see if they’re looking for volunteers. Is there a local politician you’ve always admired, or a losing candidate for local office you wish had won? Drop them a line. Are you a union member, but inactive? Get active. Is there a rally coming up in your community? Find out who’s organizing it, and offer to lend a hand with logistics or setup. Get in touch with a local food pantry, or homeless shelter, or teen crisis hotline, or abortion clinic. If you can afford to donate money, do, but while you’re at it, see if there’s a way for you to help more directly.
I’ll have some more concrete suggestions for how and where to lend a hand later, but really, don’t stress out too much about what to do. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of getting off of your butt and doing something. Because it’s by doing something that you’ll really start figuring out how to be of use, and learning how.
Maybe the first place you volunteer will be an amazing and wonderful and empowering experience. Maybe it’ll set your life on a completely new trajectory. But if it doesn’t, it’ll still be worth doing. Because you’ll learn a bunch of stuff by doing it. You’ll learn what you’re good at, and what you like doing, and what kinds of work are sustainable for you. But you’ll also learn a lot about how organizations and movements work, and what makes them succeed or fail. You’ll make connections with other people, connections that may persist after your relationship with the group is over. And crucially, you’ll get out of your comfort zone. You’ll expand your comfort zone. You’ll get more comfortable with not just the work itself, but with the phone calls and emails that put you in the room. You’ll learn how to do all the stuff, both practical and logistical, that’s going to help you be more useful in the next project you take on.
You may have noticed that I’m mostly talking in this post about getting involved with organizations and institutions. There’s a few reasons for that:
The first is that a lot of folks have written good guides to taking individual action, particularly political action. (Here’s a very well-shared one, here’s a great one that was just published today, and here’s an excellent one that leans more toward grassroots social action. This is good too, and you’ll never go far wrong following Woody Guthrie’s lead.) If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably encountered at least one of those guides already.
A second reason is that, as I said at the top of this post, this crisis is going to put extraordinary stresses on regular people and the local institutions that help them get by. Keeping people fed under Trump is part of fighting Trump. Getting people access to birth control under Trump is part of fighting Trump. Supporting teachers under Trump is part of fighting Trump. We need to be doing it all.
A third reason is that working in organizations gives you skills you can’t get anywhere else. You may not be an organizer now, and if you aren’t, you won’t turn into one overnight, but this is stuff you can learn, and one of the best ways to learn it is to apprentice with people who know it.
But the fourth reason is maybe the biggest, and it’s this: We don’t know what’s coming, and we’re going to need each other when it gets here. The worst-case scenarios for democracy and civil liberties in the coming years are really bad, and even if the worst cases don’t materialize, building robust networks of friends and allies in the struggle is going to be vital to winning victories, maintaining our equilibrium, and staying alive. And while I’d be the last person on earth to deprecate the importance of online relationships, we’re going to need to be connected with each other on a face-to-face basis too.
Calling your senator is a good and important thing to do, but it doesn’t make you less isolated. Donating to someone’s Go Fund Me may help them, and society, a lot, but it doesn’t prepare you for the next fight. Tweeting is important—I’m a big fan of tweeting—but in the years to come I’m going to want to have good people nearby as well. I have some now, but I want to have more, so I’m going to go find them and work with them.
I said on Twitter this morning that I think we’re on the cusp of a huge wave of left and liberal organizing in this country. I think we’re going to beat Trump, and I think beating Trump is just the beginning of what we’re going to do. But as I said this morning, it’s going to be hard. We’ve got a long struggle ahead of us, and it’s not a struggle we’re going to win just by calling elected officials.
We need to get together.
In recent weeks two public figures with far-right views—Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and white supremacist Richard Spencer—have made headlines with high-profile visits to American campuses, while their opponents on the left have made headlines by trying to derail those appearances.
With both Yiannopoulos and Spencer planning more campus talks, and with campus organizing on the rise in the wake of Trump’s victory, such protests, and the free-speech debates that accompany them, are going to gain much more attention in the coming months. As a civil libertarian who is also an anti-fascist, I have some thoughts on the issue that other civil libertarians might want to bear in mind…
Off-campus individuals have no right to speak on campus.
Professors, students, and staff are members of the campus community, and their ability to speak on campus without constraint is essential to fundamental principles of free speech and academic freedom. Outsiders aren’t in the same category.
When speakers like Spencer and Yiannopoulos come to our schools, they come as invited guests. Such invitations are privileges, subject to campus rules and to the preferences of relevant decisionmakers. It’s not a violation of their free speech rights for us to refuse to host them, or to discourage others from hosting them.
It’s not a violation of the First Amendment or of principles of academic freedom to oppose giving Nazis a soapbox.
The right to invite a speaker is meaningless without the right to change your mind.
Organizations like FIRE frequently raise alarms about disinvitations of campus speakers, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong, from a civil libertarian perspective, with rescinding an invitation to speak. If an invitation has been extended without a full understanding of the issues involved, or without consideration of all relevant perspectives, there’s nothing sinister in withdrawing it. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently sinister in encouraging others to change their minds about extending such invitations, even where such encouragement takes the form of protesting the invitation.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that many “disinvitations” aren’t disinvitations at all. If a speaker cancels because their planned appearance has brought them negative publicity, or to avoid embarrassing the host institution, that’s not a disinvitation, and it’s not a violation of anyone’s free speech rights.
Shining a spotlight on the views and acts of an invited speaker is legitimate behavior, and if the speaker decides to withdraw in the face of such publicity, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.
The right to protest is an essential component of the right to free speech.
Protesting a speaker is an act of free speech, and the right to protest must be defended by civil libertarians even when the protest is indecorous or unruly. It’s not an infringment on a speaker’s rights to challenge them, even if that challenge is uncivil. Sometimes incivility is exactly what a situation calls for.
It’s crucial to be alert to infringements on the free-speech rights of protesters, even hecklers. When campus officials have protesters arrested, they are leveraging the power of the state against expression they disapprove of in ways that chill free speech far more powerfully than most hecklers.
Extending invitations to harassers has costs.
Milo Yiannopoulos was banned permanently from Twitter in July because of his long history of coordinating harassment campaigns against other users of the site, and he has recently used his platform on at least one campus to engage in similarly abusive behavior. At UW Milwaukee in December, he put up the name and photo of a transgender student from that campus on a large screen behind his podium, then proceeded to spend the next several minutes abusing and deriding her, referring to her as “it,” calling her “a man in a dress,” and making a variety of cruel and ugly remarks about her.
There’s nothing obviously illegal about this nastiness—it’s Yiannopoulos’s right to engage in squalid, repulsive behavior. But again, universities have no obligation to provide a platform for it.
And they do, I believe, have at least some obligation, when they consider hosting speakers, to take into account their propensity for such behavior and anticipate its potential consequences. Yiannopoulos left UW Milwaukee that night, but his target remained to face the consequences of his actions.
People like Spencer and Yiannopoulos aren’t looking for debate.
Booking controversial speakers on campus is often defended as an opportunity for dialogue, but dialogue isn’t what these figures are after. They’re looking to build their base and their brand—to rally supporters and harvest attention.
When someone’s public persona is based on shock and “transgression”—on violating social norms for the sake of notoriety—actual dialogue isn’t in their interest and should not be used to justify their presence.
Not all questions raised by such speakers are as easily resolved.
Having said all this, I recognize that some difficult issues remain. While I consider it appropriate for universities to refuse to bring such figures to campus, for instance, I generally believe that student organizations deserve broad deference in booking speakers. Though I think the rights of hecklers should be granted far more weight than they’re typically afforded, there does come a point at which the exercise of those rights limits others’ ability to exercise theirs. And although the right to protest vocally, even rowdily, is worthy of strong defense, there are circumstances in which such protest crosses a line into physical intimidation or harassment.
These are thorny questions that pose conflicts between reasonable claims. But they’re not questions that can be engaged in a productive way unless the rights of protesters are given due weight and issues of speakers’ rights are disentangled from issues of institutional policy.
Spencer, Yiannopoulos, and their ilk hold extremist, overtly bigoted views, but they are not fringe figures—they represent an ideology and a political movement that is on the ascendancy in the United States and in much of Europe. They must be fought, and with all the tools at our disposal.
An effective defense of our civil liberties requires it.
The things she knew, let her forget again—
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.
Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the needless, tuneless songs to sing;
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.
Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.
Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.
—Dorothy Parker, 1928
Less than two weeks after it was slammed with stiff new sanctions by the Department of Education, and just days before its fall semester was scheduled to start, giant for-profit college chain ITT Tech has closed its doors.
ITT announced the shutdown in a blistering statement, released early this morning, in which it called last month’s sanctions “unwarranted . . . inappropriate and unconstitutional.” The statement described “the damage done to our students and employees, as well as to our shareholders and the American taxpayers” as “irrevocable.”
The Department’s actions, however, reflected ITT’s ongoing corporate malfeasance. The chain is currently the subject of lawsuits and investigations by a long list of state and federal agencies, and it has been out of compliance with Department of Education oversight mandates for months.
And ITT Tech’s misbehavior was of particular concern to the Department because the company’s revenue came overwhelmingly from the American taxpayer. Since 2010, some $5 billion in federal money has flowed to ITT in the form of grants and loans, outlays for which the chain had steadfastly refused to be held accountable.
Last month’s sanctions were designed to rectify that. Limits were placed on ITT’s ability to divert revenue to its management and investors. Enrollment of new students using federal loans and grants was paused. And crucially, ITT’s letter of credit was hiked dramatically.
This last provision is worth explaining in more detail, because it clarifies both why ITT failed and what will happen next. When the Department requires that an educational institution post a letter of credit, that institution essentially places a specific amount of money in escrow, setting it aside so that it will be available to use to, for instance, compensate students if the company fails while their studies are ongoing. It’s an insurance policy, in essence, imposed to ensure that the taxpayer isn’t left holding the bag in the event that a college collapses.
If a company is healthy, a letter of credit will be a straightforward cost of doing business—either they’ll be able to cover it themselves, or someone will be happy to lend them cash to do so. If a company is already failing, securing a substantial letter of credit becomes more crucial (because the risk of inaction on the part of the Department is greater) but also more dangerous (because more robust oversight could expose and compound structural weaknesses).
In the past, the Department of Education has often delayed taking action against predatory and mismanaged for-profit colleges until they were in such dire straits that any attempt to impose even mild sanctions would lead to disaster. (Chris Hicks and I discussed this problem, and proposed ways of fixing it, in a report we released this summer.) Thus, when the Department announced in the summer of 2014 that it was placing a three-week delay on disbursements of federal financial aid to Corinthian Colleges, it sent that chain into a tailspin. Corinthian imploded in the months that followed, taking an additional $35 million in emergency taxpayer funding with it.
In some ways, the fall of ITT Tech seems to mirror that of Corinthian—after years of gentle treatment by the Department of Education, a crackdown was followed almost immediately by a collapse. In other ways, however, the Department’s actions in regard to ITT reflect lessons learned from Corinthian, suggesting that the ITT crackdown is less Corinthian II than a first step toward a new model of for-profit college oversight.
I’ll be discussing the similarities and differences between Corinthian and ITT, and what the Corinthian debacle tells us about how the Department should handle the ITT aftermath, in a later post.