My other job

In addition to being a full-time student at IU and an occasional ice cream artist at Dairy Queen, I’m also an Opinion editor at the IDS. This past week, I wrote and published two columns largely concerned with the issues we’ve been discussing in class. I’ve included them here for everyone’s enjoyment, and to get a free (read: paid) blog post out of it.

“The problem with drug testing welfare applicants”

The Indiana House of Representatives approved a bill late last month to drug-test welfare applicants. It was approved only after Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) amended the bill to include a drug test for state lawmakers.

The bill, originally proposed by Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville), was withdrawn and reworked because the amendment was considered potentially unconstitutional.

Seems like a double standard. The new amendment was easier on lawmakers, who would only lose job perks, such as parking spaces, if they failed a test.

The difference between a poor person losing welfare and a middle-class person losing a parking spot seems telling to me of the government’s willingness to overlook structural inequality.

This bill is predicated on the despicable idea that welfare applicants are more likely to use drugs than us normal and hard-working Americans.

It’s supposedly based on “reasonable suspicion” of previous drug charges but relies more on the government’s unreasonable suspicion of those it’s supposed to help.

Last year, after the first bill of this kind was briefly implemented in Florida, only 2.5 percent of welfare applicants tested positive.

McMillin asked, “Do you want to teach a man to fish, or do you want to give a man a fish?”

His rhetorical question might mean something if this man weren’t fishing on a lake without fish using a shitty rod and no bait.

The American Dream has little room for poor people, who, I assure you, don’t want to be poor. They’re not poor because they’re lazy.

Low-income people in this country, a highly racialized group, face a system fighting against them. Structural racism is a real thing, historically based on exclusion of people of color from privileged groups, differences in income, differential education and white privilege.

Structural sexism is also a reality.

Single mothers have difficulty accruing benefits and proving their value as families. Marriage is financially incentivized through tax benefits.

These oppressions are often interlocking and co-articulated so, consequently, poor folks have difficulty improving their circumstances. Welfare is meant to help these people.

Let’s think about this as smart, compassionate human beings.

Welfare applicants who do use drugs are not likely doing so just because it’s fun and easy to exploit the system and get high.

Welfare recipients are receiving the bare minimum in benefits from the state. Most of those dependent on welfare for more than five years do not have a high school diploma. The current job market is disastrous.

These people are in unfavorable circumstances, to say the least.

Keeping in mind the stunningly low results from Florida’s program and the fact of structural inequality, I wouldn’t be upset if more welfare applicants tested positive. In many cases, it’s not an irresponsible way to cope with an unfairly demanding situation.

Drug usage won’t necessarily impede the work of these people, too many of whom can only get low-wage service jobs.

Ever wonder why most of the jobs across campus don’t drug test? I doubt I’m surprising anyone when I say people can wait tables or bake cookies while high.

I’m not condoning rampant or self-destructive drug use. I’m not saying a few welfare recipients won’t abuse the system — though I can hardly blame them, as the system has abused them and kept them dependent.

But, regardless of our education and skill set, we face an uncertain future. If we ever come to depend on welfare, and I’m certain all too many of us will, shouldn’t we expect to retain our dignity?

Ideally, the government is in place to care for its citizens in need and protect them from debilitating circumstances. If the intent of welfare is to provide for disadvantaged populations, why is it now being asked to police and exclude citizens?

Why would the government have a vested interest in denying help other than to save money with the logic that poor people are bad people who earned their poorness?

Luckily, Indiana’s bill stalled after a split vote in the state Senate about the estimated $1 million cost of a drug-testing program. I’d much rather see this money go toward education programs for our youth or those already on welfare, so we can actually try to help our fellow humans.

At best, this bill is financially irresponsible. At worst, it’s institutionalized racism and classism that does no good for the people of Indiana.

[Originally published on Feb. 21, 2012.]


“Our beardless leader”

The political landscape of the United States has been fundamentally altered by the Occupy movement.

Occupy Philadelphia activist Nathan “Nate” Kleinman is the first Occupier to run for congressional office.

Perhaps tellingly, he shaved his beard before campaigning for office.

He’s running as a Democrat in Pennsylvania against Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.).

The 29-year-old Kleinman, who believed the Patriot Act “turned this country upside down,” seeks to turn America right-side up.

But wouldn’t Occupy rather turn it inside-out?

Most of his grievances with American politics will sound familiar to leftists and aren’t antithetical to Occupy goals.

Drug abuse is a public health issue, not a criminal issue. The prison system is absolutely contemptible. Corporate money has no place in politics.

And yet, Kleinman is running as a Democrat, not as a third-party candidate.

He describes himself as not running “from Occupy” and says Occupy Philadelphia will be taking a vote to not endorse political candidates. Kleinman said he’d vote not to.

This makes sense according to Occupy ideology, which has so far operated as a truly democratic, populist group.

Kleinman is also running without a Super PAC, which is unsurprising from a member of an activist group with communist leanings (a term I use sympathetically) but nevertheless hurts his chances of successfully running against an establishment Democrat.

This isn’t a dissimilar move to what the Tea Party movement did, slowly channeling somewhat respectable candidates into conventional political arenas until they began to influence and disrupt the Republican party.

While this was a stab at legitimacy for Tea Partiers, Kleinman’s explicit disassociation with Occupy makes it unlikely that Occupy will gain much in visibility or legitimacy from his candidacy.

If Kleinman were to run as a third-party candidate or as part of an Occupy ticket, it would undermine Occupy’s dissatisfaction with the current power regime in the U.S.

Exemplary black feminist Audre Lorde made famous the phrase “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

To run for a seat in Congress is precisely to work within the very confines of an oppressive system. Whatever change occurs won’t undo the system that so many are infuriated by.

In a contribution to “Occupy Theory,” queer theorist Judith Butler writes, “To appeal to that authority to satisfy the demand would be one way of attributing legitimacy to that authority.”

This explains why Occupy hasn’t produced a singular document aimed at the U.S. government representing its motives and demands.

Its amorphous and adaptive strategy has allowed it to take on specific meaning in different contexts, providing a liberating banner for local activists to operate under.

Because Kleinman isn’t running as an Occupy candidate, and because the movement ideologically opposes representative leadership, it’s unlikely he will upset much of the political structure in Washington.

This isn’t what he’s trying to do. I have no trouble endorsing a candidate who will only accept individual donations, opposes establishment candidates and seeks to affect egalitarian social change at the local level.

His candidacy does raise tactical questions for Occupy as a national and international movement. Strategies will diverge throughout specific locations, and no unifying agreement will be reached among Occupiers.

These are not weaknesses but strengths that enable radical, situated resistance.
Is embodied opposition against the state, often in violent encounters with police, the only legible form of protest?

Will the U.S. government listen to overwhelming public dissent in new media? To students and scholars writing against current policy? To Guantanamo prisoners carving poetry into Styrofoam cups? To future candidates associated with Occupy?

Will the U.S. government ever listen to the multiplicity of voices wholly resentful of money in politics and fascist policing of bodies?

The general strike called for by the Occupy movement on May 1 is much more likely to provoke meaningful response from the state than any Occupy activist turned Democrat candidate.

And we won’t have to shave our beards.

[Originally published on Feb. 23, 2012.]

Notice how I problematically refer to “our beards,” ignore a lot of co-articulated oppressions, and racialize Audre Lorde, but not Judith Butler. It ain’t easy being this privileged.

I promise my next blog post will be full of original content.

— Patrick beane

Ps I still haven’t written about Drake. Shame on me.


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