Friday, March 21, 2008

Efficient Citizenship!

United States Citizenship and Informational Services (USCIS) would like us to believe that they are a super-efficient, well oiled buraucracy providing fast service to those working throught the immigration system.

Unlike the popular myth, we all know how slow the process is, as news on visa and citizenship backlogs begin to emerge. Stories have broken as to how many files are piled up in the offices of USCIS in need of updating. My friend Will Coley who has worked for the American Friends Service Committee and works on immigration policy has made a fun movie about the efficiency of USCIS

Below is a story and link to watch the video. Enjoy!

Vote now for video contest on Immigrant Rights!

The Movement Vision Lab Video Contest — Cast Your Vote!

The Movement Vision Lab received a dozen entries in their first ever video contest. And now it's your turn to weigh in and tell them which ones you like most, as they decide which to award the $1000 prize to.

The Movement Vision Lab staff has winnowed down the entries to their top five. Check them out below --- and log-in to the Movement Vision Lab and post a comment on this page saying which video you like most and why. OR you can vote directly on the You Tube pages via the links. The comment period will last two weeks, and then they'll announce the winner! So tell them what you think today!

Remember, the contest is about Immigration and Community Values. Vote for the video that you think best tells America that, immigrants and citizens alike, we're all in it together!

So, without further ado, the finalists (in no particular order) CLICK HERE:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

720 million dollars/ day!

That is how much the war in Iraq costs per day! Yikes imagine the amount of schools that could be built, children that could be fed, solar energy panels that could be set up!

I firmly believe that we are not being given the full story about this war. Just the other day I read in New York Times that very high percentage of Iraqi refugees donot feel like they will be safe if they return. Today on CNN (i guess they would be classified as mainstream media) there was a sizeable coverage of the growing protests against the war in Iraq, the President acknowleding that the war has cost more than what was expected.

Gee, People in social justice movements and many economists and masses of American people has known this for years. How then do we move forward with bringing peace in Iraq? There are many options starting with the US pulling out, UN peace keeping forces working with the Iraqigovernment and people to restore some sense of security in the country.

In the midst of war and total destruction, i wonder how queer and transgender people are making it there? what is the impact of the Us occupation on the development of children's psychology in Iraq.

It is pretty clear to me that this war was unecessary, the US needed to have worked with the UN on this issue.

May peace prevail on Iraq and the world.

Obama and Racial politics in the US II

Hi everyone, thanks for all the comments. I want to clarify by saying that I am not suggesting that Hillary and McCain's pastor hold critical views about racism and imperialism, I am saying that non one puts them on the stage and scrutinizes them.

The scrutiny of Rev.Wright without understanding the contexts of his rage and the reductionist linear connection that hence Obama must be anti-american are nuanced ways that racism finds expression these days.

The Senator's speech was inspiring, and will go down in history as a clarion call to work through issues of racial inequality in US society.

Some of you have asked me where in the Senator's speech did he talk about black men in jails and transgender woemn of color being killed. He did not. Like the Senator I would want for us to start these dialouges in our communities. A dialouge that is matured, rooted in self-reflection and structural analysis.

Finally, I want to address this question why he did not leave his chruch? I donot know why? I cannot answer on beahlf of him, heck I donot even know him! However I can share my own experience and experiences of other freinds of color. I rarely go to a Hindu temple,I am yet to find a progressive queer freindly, ant-sexist Hindu temple in the US. However everytime I am in Cleveland I go to the Hindu temple and listen to the chantings of the priest.

The familiar sights and smells of the earten lamp, the kneeling at the feet of Goddess Kali, invokes in me a sense of connection with the divine, which no other LGBT meditation group-support group has given me. My point being I live at the intersections of being gay, being immigrant, being male bodied,being of Indian origin, being educated and it is important to find culturally relevant spaces be they queer, or hindu, or academic where I can find reiterations for my identity. Sometimes in part and sometimes in whole.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama and Racial politics in the US

No one ever put Hillary Clinton on stage to address why several radical feminists and And national organizations like National Organization of Women support her? No one ever put John McCain's faith on question. No one even suggests that they should change their church just becasue their pastor has critical thoughts and harsh feelings towards racism and imperialism. But we do need to put the black candidate here on stage to defend how he is not just "black" but will work for everyone. Racial inequality and fear of people of color still haunts America.

All this is not to suggest that I am crying "Obama is vicitm of racism" because regardless of ways racial inequality persists in the US, he has struggled and thrived in life. What I am suggesting is that racism in the US is no longer about the "n" word only. It is nuanced in the ways we frame debates and dialouges. The failure of the mainstrem media (and largely white reporters, because the African-American reporters are speaking their mind on this) to realize the level at which progressive religious institutions like Trinity play crucial roles in poverty stricken communities, by providing servcie that the government otherwise has shrugged their shoulders from. Also, the ways in which complex transformations of pain, frutration to hope and spirit happen through energized sermons.

While I donot beleive that Senator.Obama's running is going to fundamentally alter the ways in which fear of altering racial power in this country operates, I do believe like the Senator it is time we start talking about such issues as why higher rates of Black men are in jail? why even after paying taxes both documented and undocumented immigrants are cut off welfare? why is HIV risisng in communities of color? why so many targets of anti-transgender killings are transgenders of color?

Also at the core of this is to ask what are the limitations of us as individuals rising above our conditions versus society as a community of people working to solve crises collectively? Both need happen in tandem!

Notes from the Rust Belt

In Urban Planning we call Akron,OH a "rustbelt" city. By that we mean that the once booming steel and rubber industries have left for Mexico or India, gas station after station is up for sale, the bright and the best have moved to either of the coasts, those who remain struggle to fill up their tanks, and largely work service sector jobs that barely pay the minimum wage.

I moved back to Akron, after nine years of living in New York in hopes of saving some money while I research PhD programs. In the last ten years or so, not much has changed in this city except gas prices and the housing market. Yet you see newer eating joints such as Panera Breads and Chipotle's everywhere. Some of my friends have killed themselves, some moved on, some made it big. What has changed is the University landscape. Millions of dollars have been pumped into the U of Akron, new buildings propped up, heck the president of UA was even interviewed by the New York Times recently, in hopes of getting industries and the federal government to invest in polymer research at the university.

I take the bus twice a day to get to school. I have now come to known some of the regulars on the bus. There is Seba, who came here from the "Crribbeans" in the 60's. "My dauther goes to Ohio state!" she proudly tells me. She has worked in a factory for thirty years and now has a unionized job. Then there is Lisa, the part time nurse. She walks a mile every morning and night to get to the bus to work for 5hrs/day at a struggling community clinic. "we see a lot of poor people who cannot pay for their health insurance". And then there is our morning driver and our night driver. "Vote for Metro-Scat on March 4th!" one of them told me the first time I got on to the bus.

I learnt that that the City of Akron had been cutting back on the Metro budget for the last several years. The drivers schedules have been disrupted, services connecting Akron with local cities had been disconnected. Issue 8 is a proposal for a 0.25 percentage-point sales tax increase that would raise about $18 million a year for Metro Regional Transit Authority. Passing the levy would increase total sales tax in Summit County to 6.5 percent. As a eco-labor friendly urban-planner who relies upon the Metro to get to school, I toook upon myself to spread the word about Issue 8. We called the Metro office got flyers and called our family and friends asking them to vote for Issue 8. A local group called "Citizen's for Poublic Transportation" organized on busy hours and weekends speaking to people on buses to vote for Issue 8. On March4 th Issue 8 won by 52% of votes. Now starts the fight of working with the City to get the money allocated.

For the few weeks till March4th Seba would dread the day when she would not be able to make it to work. Now we smile and feel empowered.

Why is public transportation the last thing on the City Planning departemtns agenda in many cities across the US?

As an Urban Planning student I have some answers. First, the way suburbanization occurs in rust-belt cities creates way for "urban-sprawl" meaninng large sub-developments along highway corridors, splashed with malls and cinema complexes. Making them the bedroom communites for larger cities (in this case Cleveland). Making planning for bus services difficult. Second, it is simply not a priority! the popular policy idea being "people on welfare takes busues, so why bother!"

To me this is symptomatic of the ways neo-liberal policy making has hit the rust-belt. The pay as you go mantra that is used by the IMF and World Bank in "lesser developed countries" has hit home. The notion that individuals can take care of themselves without any help from each other and government support is the crux of neo-liberal policy making along with the reign of monopoly capitalism. So let poor bus-riders pay if they want the bus, so let people and their employers pay for their health, just deregulate markets and let capital move freely across the globe and jobs will come, people will be happy!

And the result is flight of capital from once booming cities like Akron and Youngstown, and where do they fly to? They fly for cheap labor in countries like Colombia, Mexico and India. Companies pay bare to nothing to laborers overseas, disrupt unionizing efforts. Indeed the contours of the global labor scpae is being fundamentally altered by trade-deals and fast movement of capital across nations.

It is in this context local struggles like that of Metro service is important local victories, a start of re-altering policy spending and people's power. After all Akron is not that a dull city eh!

Is the economy a bigger problem in the US than racism?