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Monday, October 03, 2005

STOP? more like YIELD

There was a specific moment when I knew that the STOP (Students Taking On Poverty) Campaign wasn't going to "stop" anything: when I learned that it had been endorsed by the the IOP. The IOP avoids like the plague anything that might be percieved as "ideology" or "opinion," in other words, anything that argues for actual structural change requiring the sacrifice of the privileged political class. As a result, anything that the IOP will put it's official name on without hemming and hawing for at least half a semester clearly has no teeth. Poverty, a result of an insanely complicated combination of systemic oppression and a degraded culture (to name just two things), is not going to be "STOPped" by IOP-friendly activism. I'm sorry, it's just the truth.

Alright, so the STOP Campaign kicked off it's media blitz by taking over the Crimson Editorial Page today. Some good writing, some great opinions, some great food for thought. Mischa Feldstein wrote a great piece on the intersection of homophobia/transphobia and poverty, but is STOP working to end homophobia and transphobia? No. Dam Ogunnaike wrote a great piece about how important it is to not perceive Africans and "poor" African nations as victims but as the solutions to their own troubles. Is STOP following this advice? Not to the best of my knowledge. Kaya Williams wrote a great piece on systemic inequality as reflected in the tax/spend structures of American schooling. Is STOP trying to force governments to equalize spending on education? Well, you get the idea. (note: you should read those three pieces in full, I did a terrible job of summarizing them).(more in expanded post)

So, I'm being a little harsh to make the point. STOP is certainly a good cause, and the attention brought to the issue is long overdue. For that alone, the organizers of the campaign should be commended. But awareness alone is not going to "STOP" poverty. As much as anything, poverty in enabled by the fact that after reading those articles, Harvard students went on with their self-interested, materialist lifestyles. Some may become a little less trans/homophobic, maybe a few will read Jonathan Kozol, maybe some will give money to African-based African aid. Most won't. Most will go on to run American corporations, to buy third-world produced clothes, to oppose or not care about (as if there's a difference) the unionization of the people who protect them while they sleep. And, since the rest of the campaign (to the best of my knowledge) is simply about raising cash for Katrina victims and other people experiencing poverty (as if CASH will solve a complicated systemic social crisis...), I don't see where the STOPping comes in.

So, believe it or not, the title of this post is more than just a bad pun. Stopping poverty will require massive, ideological, controversial restructurings of American society, capitalism and government. The STOP Campaign does a wonderful service by bringing up the conversation, but so long as it's advocacy is based in fundraising and awareness it is only a YIELD sign: optional, ignorable. Of course, Cambridge Common isn't stopping poverty either (so I don't mean to be hypocritical in my critique of raising awareness through media), but it also doesn't claim to be doing so. If you want to STOP poverty, you're going to need to start organizing, start lobbying, and start fighting, and not just in the ways that make the IOP comfortable.


At 5:21 PM, Anonymous sarika said...

I think my biggest problem with the STOP campaign -- and I'm so glad I'm not the only one who wasn't completely convinced by it -- is the degree of, dare I say, arrogance it carries with it. The name itself says to me, "We are Harvard students, we're smart, we've studied poverty in our classes maybe, and we have the power to STOP poverty if we try." Obviously that statement is slightly facetious, but it's getting at the heart of what the STOPpers seem to be saying.

I think the things they are doing are great, but under a terribly inaccurate title. There's nothing wrong with the name "Fundraising for Hurricane Katrina Victims Club" except that it's less catchy -- at least it's true.

I think the best ways we can potentially STOP poverty as students are to (1) hold discussions about potential ways to combat structural causes of poverty, so that when we go out in the real world we'll be more prepared (Harvard's supposed to be a breeding ground for us to discuss ideas anyway, isnt' it?); (2) get Harvard to invest some of its $26 billion endowment in sustainable projects in impoverished situations; and/or (3) begin a national coalition of students putting pressure on our government to give more attention and resources to the less fortunate. Until we do that (and realistically, afterwards as well), poverty will remain an integral part of American society.

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Tina said...

i propose a simple rename, perhaps SHAFRAC, Students Having Fundraisers Club.

i personally was also super bummed when i realized that STOP was actually a presumptiously named fundraising club; it would really be great to have a harvard group committed to discussing how to end poverty, and advocating for real, structural attempts to do so.


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