Thursday, August 27, 2009

The University of Chicago is the World of Warcraft of Chicago Schools

I worked through a temporary employment agency the other day and had an interesting experience.

Temp agencies are notorious for substandard pay, benefits, and hours. They are often used instead of full time, union workers. However as economy has been driven into the ground by wall street greed, many are finding themselves with no other option than to seek temp work.

One assignment I was sent to was for the Chicago Public School's Office of Literacy. The office was coordinating an event where elementary school teachers would be trained on how to use their school books by the private corporations that make the books. My job was to help teachers park, set up lunch and help check teachers out. Not tough work, but it struck me how odd the whole thing was.

If I were a teacher, I wouldn't want some corporation to tell me how to teach. Teachers are dedicated public servants, who are interested in educating the youth, while this book company cares only about its profits.

When the temp job was finished and I was able to go about my day, I decided to head down to the University of Chicago. I am interested in entering Graduate School and wanted to speak to someone in the History Department to ask about their program.

I got off the temp job at 3 and thought that, like most other offices, they would close around 5. When I made it to the office at 4:15, I saw a sign posted on the office door that said that the office would close at 4:00 pm during the Summer. You can imagine my frustration.

As I wandered around the campus, unsure of where or what to do next, I marveled at the Gothic Buildings, the Ivy Growing up the sides of buildings, the stone sculptures of knights and maidens around the windows, and the gargoyles crouching from the rooftops. It looked oddly medieval in a city that is known for its industry. Instead of railroads, slaughterhouses and steel mills, it was sheer fantasy.

I also noticed that the doors to the buildings only had doors on the inside of the quad. There was no street access to the buildings, but you had to be inside the green park like quad to enter the buildings.

I came to the realization that the University of Chicago has little, if any, connection with reality. It is the World of Warcraft of Chicago academia. Intellectually stimulating, yet designed to keep you on your butt doing nothing to fix the problems of your life and of the world. The University of Chicago isn't going to do anything to give Chicago teachers freedom, in fact the school eradicated it's education department because it was to practical. It isn't going to help unionize temp workers, the school was the birthplace of neo-liberalism.

What we need are schools that teach people practical lessons as well as the theoretical understanding of the world. Philosophy and practicality. Electrical work and Anthropology. Farming and Neichze. Janitorial Maintenance and Chomsky. Only then will we have an education that develops people for the real world.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Beggers and Living at Home on the Rise

A sure indication of the economy's major league fail, is the number of beggars that I see in my day to day activities. It has gone up dramatically.

It's scary to think that a year ago I would see maybe one beggar on the walk from the Metra to the Blue Line Jackson stop.

Today, I saw five beggars on that walk from the Metra to the Blue Line alone. I saw more on the train and in other neighborhoods.

I also talk to more and more of my friends who are forced into living at home, living in the suburbs because they can't afford rent while jobless in the city. They pray that their parents are able to maintain their jobs, while my friends social lives are put on hold living with their parents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"We Hold All Applications for 6 Months."

I'm sure everyone who has been job hunting in the last year has heard this phrase often, "We hold all applications for at least six months and will consider you for anything that comes up."

Most of us have muttered, "bullshit" under our breath. We knew that those applications were headed straight for the paper shredder.

Today I had proof of such disingenuous behavior from employers.

I had filled out an application for a coffee shop at a major food vender in June. I told the manager that I was going to be a camp counselor for the summer and would be back in August for when the school season picked up and they got busy.

That's when I head the dreaded lines, "We hold all applications for at least six months and will consider you for anything that comes up."

I came back to the coffee shop last week. Reminded the manager that I had already filled out an application and told her that I just wanted to let her know that I was back and ready to work. They called me back and scheduled an interview.

I walked in ready for the interview, when I was told that they had 'misplaced' my application and needed me to fill a new one out.

Misplaced. My Application. Uh-huh. Right. Maybe I should misplace my interview, that would really help me get the job right? Alas, I am only a proletariet, with nothing to sell except my own labor. If I misplaced them, they would simply hire some other poor worker, but they are able to misplace me and there is nothing I can do except smile and compliment their hair. The unfairness of it all should gall anyone with any sense of a decency.

To all the job recruiters out there, treating people like dirt, making the decisions about who gets to live in a nice apartment and who gets to sleep in the ditch, understand that one day, when the movement is strong enough, we will have universal employment in this country. That will be the day scum like you will need to be retrained to do something productive for society.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer in the Cooperative

I just returned from spending my summer at Circle Pines Center, a cooperative in Michigan which runs a summer camp program. I was a camp counselor for 13-17 year olds. I had a great time.

Circle Pines was formed in 1938, near the end of the great depression. It has always been associated with left wing groups like the Unitarian Church, the socialist and communist parties, labor unions, anti-war activists, civil rights groups, feminists and queer activists. The famous left wing folk musician Pete Seeger performed at Circle Pines in the 1950's and many other activists have visited or sent their kids to camp at CPC.

I first heard about Circle Pines Center through m friend Rob, who invited me to one of the coop's 'workbee weekends.' These are all ages camp outs where in exchange for chipping in with some of the chores and projects at Circle Pines, campers receive a discount for camping, eating, staying in the cabins. I got up at camp and was driven out into the forest on the back of a pick up truck. We stopped and I hopped off, and was handed a chainsaw and told that we would be chopping down dead trees for fire wood. They had unleashed my inner Bart Simpson.

I was interested in being a camp counselor at Circle Pines and the more I talked to my radical friends who were parents, I realized that many of them sent their kids to Circle Pines summer camp. With the down turn in the economy and the struggle to find reliable work, I had a free summer, and so decided to apply to work as a counselor this year.

We had a week of oreintation before the campers arrived. We were trained on first aid, nonviolent conflict resolution, and everything else we needed to know before the campers arrived.

Once the campers arrived and camp got going, it was very busy. We would have work projects in the morning. Campers would be able to pick from helping in the camps organic garden, cleaning the nature trails, contruction, or nitty gritty cleaning of the farmhouse, kitchen and bathrooms. This was intended to help the kids contribute to the cooperative and to learn cooperative work.

After lunch we would do singing until chores were done. We would sing old labor songs like Joe Hill and Solidarity Forever as well as 60's hippie songs like Imagine and The Times They Are a'Changin'. This was followed by a one hour rest period before the afternoon activites started. Everyday there would be different activities for the kids to participate in such as: arts and crafts, the beach, board games, sports, and discussion circles about different issues. We would discuss relgion, unions, the war, racism, and the kids were very smart and had insightful things to say about all of these issues.

After dinner there was usually an activity that reflected the camps mission. We would have 60's radicals like Larry Plamondon speak to the kids about protesting against the Vietnam war, or we would do activities that taught the kids about the imporance of fair trade, unions, and the food chain. I led an activity that taught the kids how to be a canvasser or community organizer. They had to go talk to staff members, each staff member was a different voter, with a different story, in terms of being a Republican or Democrat or what issue mattered to them. Then the campers would act like Obama canvassers and attempt to gain the voters support. We also did folk dances and dance parties. Many of the kids would cross dress at the dance parties, the camp was very Queer friendly.

The campers were pretty ridiculous. So full of energy, and so smart for their ages, they kept us counselors on our toes. I remember one camper, when he didn't want to do chores, he would talk about forming a union and going on strike to protest the chores that campers had to do.

The families of the kids were fantastic. Many of the parents were union members, or union organizers. Some were college professors for a number of progressive subjects. Some were gay or lesbian couples or immigrants from far flung countries. There was one camper whose grandfather fled from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile to Panama, and was forced to flee there are the US invasion of Panama. Another campers grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. One girl's grandfather was a Christian Palestinian, who was evicted from his home by the Israeli Defense Forces, a victim of the Nakba.

My apologies for the quality of the photos and lack of video. My digital camera is broke and I was forced to use disposable cameras.



On Pride Day, we hosted a wedding in solidarity with all the parades we were missing.




Here I am with Batman, one of the goats we watched for the summer.


During orientation this great bluegrass band performed for us.


One of the CIT's outside of the farm house looking ridiculous.


Youthies hanging out in the lodge. The Youthie Lodge featured paintings on the wall of famous icons such as Bob Dylan, Frida Kahlo, Ghandi, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Youthies hanging out in the lodge.


Here I am working on the construction work project, building a garden shed for the organic garden.


The floor of the garden shed.


Campers and Counselors singing during the after lunch sing alongs.


The folk dance was a lot of fun. I dressed up as a "Country Punk" with a flannel shirt, studded belt, fro-hawk and riped jeans.


Water Balloon toss at the beach.


Campers and Counselors being macho.


The folk dance.


More after-lunch singing.


Here I am with the youthies.


All camp photo.


The Sandman puppet I made. During the first session, all the campers and counselors made puppets and held a puppet parade for the parents who came to pick them up. My puppet was inspired by the comic book by Nail Gaiman. I was actually inside that giant puppet. The arm moved versy realistically and the head was a plastic bottle, filled with sand and decorated on the outside.


A counselor and his puppet.


Another counselor paid tribute to the goats with this pyschedelic goat puppet.


The dining hall in the farm house. The food every day was great. Most of it was vegetarian, and vegan options were available. Most of it was organic and local. The rare meat that was served came from local free range organic cows, pigs and chickens, so that one cook would tell us that they were, "happy cows." After the campers left, the counselors got to visit a dairy farm, which was pretty interesting. Even though these cows were not confined to cages, and were organic, etc, they still did not seem very happy.


Counselors and campers.

During the Youth Institute, we made a Zine. It contained lots of political musings, inside jokes, and cool art.

The Cover

The Comic Strip I drew.

My Music Recommendations for the kids.


All camp photo.


Sawing for the garden shed.

Being out in nature for the summer was wonderful. We would see were wild animals like deer, racoons, frogs, squirrels and at night you could hear coyotes howling. I woke up one morning to find a pack of wild Turkeys outside my cabin! I remember that one day a hive of bees was swarming all over the soccer field. Apparently a queen had been born and they were begining a new hive. Over an hour, the swarm condensed itself onto a single branch. The plant life was incredible as well. Wild Rasberry's would grow along trails, vines would grow off of tall trees, and even hops grew on trees.


The Western Look out.


A nice trail.


The Labrynth was a cool meditation tool that was recently built.



The organic apple orchard.


A field in the back 80.


Using the nail gun for the garden shed.



Pine trees.


The finished garden shed.




Every year at the end of camp, the campers perform a folk opera. They spend two week practicing, writing, and working on the performance. The opera usually satirizes camp and the counselors through song, dance and acting. This year's was particuarly great as they sang songs like "My stinky hippie camp" to the tune of My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas "They Truth and Dared and They liked it" to the tune of I Kissed a girl and I Liked it. To read the script to my scene, scroll to the bottom.


One of the campers playing me in the folk opera.


The final song in the folk opera.

Photo courtesy of Clare Stamler-Goody. At the end of each session, counselors give out awards to campers. The awards are usually quite creative and funny. Our Youthies were very cool and made awards for the counselors as well. I received a wood ax that had written on it "Most Brootal Counselor Award" for my love of Heavy Metal. I also received the "Political Punk Rocker Award."

We also did something called "Secret Angels." Everyone at camp would pick a name out of a hat, and would secretly give small gifts or acts of kindness to thier "ignorant mortal." At the end of each camp session, we would find out who our secret angels were.

I would recommend that other progressives who are looking for a fun summer camp to send their children to, consider circle pines. If you are not sure about it, or do not have children, visit for one of the work bee weekends. The Apple Cider Weekend is very popular.

Below is the Text of the Folk Opera for the Scene my Charecter was in. Script by the Folk Opera Staff.


Youthie Scene:

(Heidi enters, skipping down a path)

Heidi: On my way to Grandma Kristen’s house. I’ve got to deliver the hair straightener to her, so she can subdue the Youthies. This sure is a long way from Pittsburgh. This path is taking too long. Maybe I can take a shortcut through Devil’s Hill, er Youthie Beach path. (She continues skipping, Matt jumps out at her)

Matt: Hey there! Did you realize how much money our country spends per day on the war?

Heidi: You frightened me!

Matt: You’re telling me! You wanna be frightened? Read the news.

Heidi: Who are you?

Matt: I’m Matt the “Big bad wolf,” if you will. But the wolf part is really a metaphor. Sort of like Werewolf by Night.

Heidi: (cautious) I see, well, I’ve got to get to my Grandma’s House and-

Matt: Lemme ask ya, did you ever think about how Batman was a fascist? Think about it Batkids goose-stepping through Gotham…

Heidi: I’m not sure I follow. But I’ve really got to get going.

Matt: I’ll walk with you. Perhaps I could recommend some music for your journey. What kind of music are you into? Heavy metal, black metal, folk metal, gospel metal…

Heidi: I’m really more of a top 40 kind of girl… Oh, here we are at Grandma’s! Grandma, I’ve never been so happy to see you!

Kristen: Little Red Heidi Hoody, I’m so happy you are here! I was just finishing a poem and knitting a sweater for my sweetheart.

Heidi: Jazzy?

Kristen: Jazzy? Who’s Jazzy? These are for Naughty Boy. Who’s this furry friend you’ve got with you?

Matt: I’m the Big Bad Wolf-Matt. From Chicago, the best city in the whole wide wide world.

Kristen: Well it is very nice to meet you. Heidi hood, do you have the object?

Heidi: Yup, I’ve got it right here. Right here with my make-up kit!

Matt: Do you know that those poisonous cosmetics in your bag are the cause of death for thousands of innocent animals? In the words of Rousseau-

Noland: Hi there! I’m Nolan, the Poetry Guru. I’m here to save you from an oncoming discussion of capitalism and it’s effects on the Punk Revolution!

Heidi: Thank God. He was starting to make me feel dumb. But that’s nothing new here.

Kristen: Oh Heidi, don’t say that. Let me show you this cute mushroom I found to cheer you up. Of I could tell you a story about snow.

Matt: Don’t you guys think the Youthies have had a little too much alone time? We should go break up their touchy-feely time in the lodge and get them to brush their teeth.

Nolan: I’m sure that with my good looks, the girls will come running right out.

Heidi: I think we should give them a little more time.

Matt, Kristen, and Nolan: NO!!!


Youthie Song to I Kissed a Girl

Matt: This was never the way I planned

Tree-huggers annoy me

I’ve got my brave guitar in hand

To burst the screen door

Kristen: It’s time to go brush teeth

Just get up off the couch

Youthies: We really don’t want to

We want to make-out

Chorus: They truth, their dare it, they like it

With the smell of the pee couch

They licked an arm just to try it

Hope the counselors don’t mind it

Youthies: It was so gross, it was so great

Counselors: Hope they don’t go to bed too late

All: They truth, they dare it, they like it

Nolan: Step over Gabe, I’m the new hottie

No one compares the girls want me

Heidi: Mosquitoes, mice, and Matt’s Beard

Hippie camp is so weird

Counselors: These kids they just won’t leave the lodge

Chorus: They truth, their dare it, they like it

With the smell of the pee couch

They licked an arm just to try it

Hope the counselors don’t mind it

Youthies: It was so gross, it was so great

Counselors: Hope they don’t go to bed too late

All: They truth, they dare it, they like it

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Chicago Air and Water Show: A Public Nuisance

Every year, as the summer winds down and school is getting ready to begin, the US Air Force and Navy perform on Lake Michigan and fly jets over the lake and the city of Chicago. Thousands crowd onto the North Avenue beach to watch the spectacle. Families come into the city from the suburbs to watch the jets perform while speakers blare "Rock me like a Hurricane."

While the city loves to tout the event as a family activity, fun for the whole city, and a major tourist draw, many Chicago residents dislike the event. They consider the Armed forces to be outsiders intruding on an anti-war city. While many of my friends have picketed at the Air and Water Show, handing out fliers and trying to educate the public about the war, I sought out what the greater Chicago community felt about the show. Here are what some members of the Chicago community felt about the event.

A recording studio owner, "I'm pissed. I was supposed to be recording a band, but those jets make so much noise they end up on the tracks. I'm losing money because of this stupid air and water show."

A Vietnam war veteran, "In Vietnam, the Vietnamese women would use home made missiles to take down these jets that were bombing their homeland. Could you imagine the BALLS these women had? They were fighting for their freedom, that's what I think of every time I see these jets flying, Vietnamese women blowing them out of the sky."

A Sierra Club member, "I'm concerned about the environmental impact of the air and water show. The jet flying and creating so much noise must disturb the birds that fly in this area. It also wastes a lot of gas, and for what? To entertain a bunch of kids?"

A college student, "I hope the army packs up it's toys and heads home soon."

A mother of a high school student, "It worries me that the city is letting the armed forces recruit our children for the war machine. It's bad enough that we have to deal with recruiters in our schools, but this noise and the show, is really scary."

A bartender, "I have to work nights, but these jets keep me up during the day, when I usually sleep."

A Pakistani taxi driver, "This reminds me of home. The US has bombed our country several times, and to see them glorify war, is sad. I came to this country looking to escape war, and here you glorify it with these loud jets. Every time I hear one, it makes me think of how the people in Iraq must feel."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scam Alert! Career Fairs That Don't Offer Careers.

As the economic recession continues, many jobless people, myself included, are desperate for a job and are flooding job fairs, open houses, and any opportunity to apply for a job, no matter how miserable that job may be.

I attended the May 19 nonprofit career fair at Roosevelt University. I had attended one of their career fairs several years ago and was expecting a decent job fair with some socially conscious employers.

I was greatly disappointed. The fair was overcrowded. There must have been four times as many people at this fair as there were the one I attended previously. There was hardly room to move from table to table.

The most frustrating part of this supposed 'career fair' was that there were no actual jobs at it. Every table I stopped at was offering unpaid internships.

Well, gee thanks, that helps pay our rents. That helps me when my COBRA insurance runs out in a few months. I'll just tell my landlord that I'll pay him with what I make from my 'unpaid internship.' I'm sure my credit card collector will understand.

Furthermore, what was the Steppenwolf theater doing at this career fair? They are a theater company, not a group committed to social change. They perform plays, they don't organize mass movements.

Two weeks later I attended the 'just in time' career fair at DePaul University. It was open to DePaul students and alumni, but closed to other job seekers. This did not prevent other jobless people from attempting to get in. I felt bad for them, but it made the job fair less crowded, and gave attendees an actual opportunity to speak with employers.

There were actual jobs available at this fair. There were corporate, non-profit, and government tables. While there were a few unpaid internship type deals, there were other tables that were interested in actual employees.

However some of those jobs were scams. For example, Apartment Finders employees hardly qualify as such as it is a commission only pay. So if you are unable to sell enough shitty condemned apartment buildings to dirt poor people who can't afford them, you are not making any money. Plus, if it's commission pay, then your hours are likely to be more than full time, with no benefits and less pay than many part time jobs.

Also, I was curious why the US Army was at the career fair. Many people join the army in the hope that they can one day attend college. Here the US Army was attempting to recruit college graduates! Isn't the point of getting a college degree to avoid having to lose a limb for George Bush's imperialist war in Iraq? It sickens me that military recruiters are allowed any where near our schools.

Then some tables, had no real purpose in being at the job fair other than to advertise themselves. For example, Hilton Hotels and the City of Chicago refused to accept resumes. They would tell job seekers to go apply online.

For those of you who have never filled out an online application for a job, let me fill you in on what you have been missing. It is essentially a way for hiring managers to never have to look a desperate job seeker in the eye. It is a way for them to sleep like a baby in their condo while job seekers struggle to stay out of the gutter. Online applications prevent a candidate with little experience but lots of personality and determination from meeting a live person and making an impresion. Actually, online applications give family, friends and lovers of hiring managers an advantage over all other job candidates. Think about it, if you were corporate sleaze with a business management degree, would you hire some stranger who you have never met, or would you hire the person you have been fucking? With online applications, you never even have to meet the people who you deny the job to.

All of this makes you wonder how much that college degree is worth. In Marc Bousquet's How the University Works the university's true function in a capitalist society is laid bare. It is not about educating the masses, or training intellect workers, or about helping you find a career. The university wants your money. So don't sign up for college thinking that you are going to get a sweet job when you graduate. I can almost garuntee you, that the only thing that awaits you is unpaid internships.

It will continue to be this way, until we organize the working class and fight for a cooperative economy. As long as we buy into the ideological construct of corporate America, we will continue to get the short end of the stick. Which is why we must organize.

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