Larisa Karr is a chronic wanderer and writer. Interested in everything from hard news to theatre, Larisa has written articles for different publications in addition to taking photos. She is currently majoring in International Studies and Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In addition to writing and photography, she enjoys drawing, people-watching and travelling.
The 24-year-old rapper is known as Ducee’ Drop Top, an alias he was christened with as a result of his obsession with a certain automobile.
“We used to get rentals a lot when we were a little younger, when we would take trips wherever we wanted to go,” May said. “But every time we wanted a rental, I always wanted a drop top and so every time we got one I was just always doing some crazy stuff. So people just started calling me ‘Drop Top.’”
A post shared by Duceé DropTop (@therealdroptop) on
Ducee’ was a name that friends would repeatedly call him, and it soon became part of his rapper alias.
His music is majorly influenced by rappers and musicians in hip-hop, like Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Outkast, but he’s also inspired by everyday experiences.
“A lot of themes (in my music) are things that I just see and a lot of things that I do. I really just go off of vibes to be honest,” May said. “You know, I rap about everyday lifestyles. I rap about the struggle of what happened with my homeboys and why they’re locked up right now.”
For May, who is a perfectionist, it is important to maintain a balance between being serious and laid-back when creating music.
“My main thing is practice makes perfect,” May said. “You’re gonna always have tracks that you don’t release and you’re gonna have different stuff, but at the end of the day, if you’re having fun, that’s all I care about.”
May was raised in Durham, North Carolina but travels frequently between the Bull City and Atlanta.
“I say the Bull City raised me and Atlanta made me,” May said. “I network and that’s where I have gotten to see things that changed my perspective on the music game and life.”
He speaks fondly of Durham, especially about its recent rise as a creative and artistic hub in the Southeast.
“I love what it’s become because everybody’s working together. Everybody’s pushing each other,” May said. “Everybody’s bringing out all the art and if it stays like this, I’d say in the next two years, Durham’s gonna be crazy.”
His musical background began at a young age.
Having played the violin, trumpet and French horn throughout his elementary, middle and high school years, he played in an all-star band and attended art school in Durham. From there, he focused on other instruments, including drums and guitar. It was only about a little over a year ago, however, that he started rapping and immersing himself in his love for hip-hop and rap culture.
His ultimate goal with his music is to give back to the community.
“You know how Akon lit up a whole city in Africa by giving them electricity?”, May said. “I’m trying to do stuff like that with money. Whenever I get on, whenever it happens, I’m giving back to the community because they need the money more than I would.”
Read below for an exclusive Q & A with the artist.
Tell me the origin behind your name.
“Behind Ducee’ Drop Top? To be honest with you, alright, so, it’s a little funny story. We used to get rentals a lot when we were a little younger, when we used to take trips just wherever we wanted to go, but every time we wanted a rental, I always wanted a drop top and so every time we got one, I was just always doing some crazy stuff. So, people just started calling me ‘drop top.’”
What’s a drop top?
“Like the car. You know, when the roof pops off.”
Oh, ok. Ok. I wasn’t sure. Sorry. That’s funny.
“And yeah, Ducee’ just came from… my friends just call me that. I don’t know why. You should ask them. I mean, it was just like, ‘You know, I like Ducee’. Call me Ducee’ Drop Top.’ You know what I’m saying? It’s just a name that just came over time.”
Yeah. So, it was just kind of like a mish-mash of things in your life that came together.
“Yeah and it’s a little different too. You know what I mean? It’s like drop top. It’s like naming an item on a car, you know what I’m saying? It’s something different.”
Mmm-hmm. Yeah. You don’t hear that too often.
So, in terms of some of the themes you primarily rap about, what would you say are like some motifs or just like themes that come up in your music a lot?
“A lot of themes are a lot of things that I just see, you know, a lot of things that I do. I really just go off of vibes, to be honest. I just go in there and I just make something happen. You know, I rap about everyday lifestyles. I rap about the struggle of what happened with my homeboys and why they’re locked up right now and stuff like that or I’m just talking about trying to make a little club banger or I’m just talking about, you know, all of my homies, walling. We’re in the club, walling. You know what I’m saying?”
“Just different things and it depends on my vibe when I just go in the studio, you know what I mean? You just try and go in there and just have fun with it, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
“Cuz you make music and my main thing is practice makes perfect. You’re gonna always have tracks that you don’t release and you’re gonna have different stuff. But, at the end of the day, if you having fun, that’s all I care about.”
Yeah, yeah. You’ve gotta make something that you’re proud of but you’re also not too serious about at the same time.
So, what would you say, you mentioned your homeboys being locked up, what would you say happened with that, if you don’t mind me asking?
“Well, they had a situation. I guess I can’t speak upon their charges or whatever, but whatever they’re going through, we just want them to know that we’re here for them, you know. We gotta push it for them. So, when they get out, they’ll be in a better situation, you know what I mean?”
So, would you say in terms of social justice issues, would you say police brutality and the pipeline-to-prison thing is something that you’re passionate about?
“Well, we’re not going to go ahead and start off.”
Yeah, yeah. Oh god.
“Fuck Trump. Fuck all this corrupt bullshit. Honestly, if people just looked at each other equally and we all came together as a whole, we don’t even have to be countries. All this extra shit is just a result of going back in history. History just repeats itself, you know what I’m saying?
“You just kind of gotta deal with what’s going on, you know what I mean? Just try to stay positive. You feel me?”
Yeah, yeah, absolutely and I think you’re right about you know, countries and borders and nationalisms. It’s such a barrier between human beings. Some person will say, ‘I’m from this country’ and another person will say, ‘Well, I can’t relate to you because I’m from this country’ and it’s just really sad.
“Yeah, man. Honestly, it’s ignorance and it’s lack of education. It all starts at the house, you know what I mean?”
“Eventually, hopefully, it’ll all change but the only thing we can do is just thrive and prosper and try to make the situation better for the next generation. You know what I mean? That’s what I’m trying to do. You know how Akon had lit up a whole city in Africa? Like, he gave them electricity and stuff like that?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to do stuff like that with money, trying to start things like that so whenever I get on, whenever it happens, I’m giving back to the community because they need the money more than I would, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, absolutely, sort of like what Chance the Rapper did in Chicago. I forgot what exactly happened but I think he did something to help school kids and I thought that was really cool.
“Yeah. It all starts with youth and if you give them something to do that’s positive, then, you know what I’m saying, it can change a lot. But some people get the money and they forget about everything else and they’re just worried about whatever else involves more money and then there’s those people like J. Cole and Damian Marley that are real humble people. You can tell the real humble ones out there by how they act when they get money. Money sometimes changes people.”
So what would you say some of your primary influences on your music are?
“Like right now or what influenced me overall? Like, people?”
I would say both.
“Ok. Well, the people that always influenced me when I was young were people like Snoop Dogg, Outkast, different people. Outkast, I always loved Outkast because they were way ahead of their time and if you really still listen to what they’re talking about, it’s the same stuff that’s going on now. It’s just so crazy. So, I just like dope stuff like that. Wiz Khalifa and you know what I’m saying. They inspire me. Honestly, I try to get inspired by everybody that’s around me.”
That’s awesome, yeah.
“All my friends, they’re the ones. We just push each other to do better. Those are the real people that inspire me, you know what I mean?”
Yeah. So, what would you say, it terms of the places you live, between Atlanta and Durham, how has living in those places shaped your music, do you think?
“It’s changed. Oh, man. I’ve grown up in Durham since second grade, but my whole family has always been from Georgia. So, I’ve always gone over summers. I’ve gone back and forth from Georgia and stuff like that. So, it’s different scenery. It’s a bigger city. It’s different. Now, Durham’s a good city. It’s developing now and I’m loving to see what it’s molding into because it’s a beautiful city filled with a lot of artistic people and it deserves shine, you know what I mean? Now, everybody’s working together to actually do it, you know what I mean?”
“One of the last people that came out in Durham that actually made it was maybe 9th Wonder, you know what I mean? These people are like older heads now. But the reason why a lot of people, there’s been a lot of artists throughout time, that haven’t made it is because they didn’t want to work with each other and actually worked for individual prosperity instead of trying to put the city on the map, you know what I’m saying? So, excuse me if I’m trying to ramble.”
No, it’s all good. Stream-of-consciousness is always better.
“Yeah, I love what it’s become because everybody’s working together. Everybody’s pushing each other. There’s a lot more shows. Everybody’s bringing out all the art and if it stays like this, I’d say in the next two years, Durham’s gonna be crazy.”
Yeah, they moved Moogfest there, which was, you know, kind of a thing in Asheville and then all of a sudden, they moved it to Durham, which, you know, Asheville was kind of sad. But, I went there last year to cover it and I could totally see why Durham is really up-and-coming because it’s super hip and cool.
“Yeah, and it’s always been like that but it wasn’t like this two or three years ago. It was nothing like this. But now, I love it, you know what I mean? So, I just want to put the city on the map and you know, I love Atlanta. I say the Bull City raised me and Atlanta made me. I network and that’s where I got to see things that changed my aspect of the music game and life, you know what I mean? I’m just trying to take whatever I can. I just like to travel. So, even when I was in LA, I’m just trying to take what I can from each little spot.”
Yeah, that makes sense. So, if you were to say what inspired you to become a rapper primarily, what would you say? When did you become a rapper?
“Ok. Well, I’ve always done music my whole life. I was in fourth grade. I started playing the violin in the school program. When I got to middle school, I played trumpet and then they switched me to the French horn and I played in the all-star band, went to art school in Durham and I was focused on drumming, like percussion and guitar and stuff like that. So, I’ve always had a love for music and I always thank my parents for getting me into it early, you know what I mean? So, I didn’t really start taking rapping seriously until about a year and some change ago. I’ve always liked beats and loved hip hop and the rap culture and so, you know, I started just doing it for fun and I started really trying to take it seriously because the two homeboys that I mentioned earlier that are in jail, they were the main people that were really rapping and I used to always be around them. It was a team. It was always love. It was about brotherhood. So, they were really pushing me to keep the dream alive, you know what I’m saying?”
Yeah, absolutely. That’s awesome.
“So, it’s really just for fun but if, at the end of the day, people love it then I’m just gonna keep doing what I like, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, you gotta roll with that.
“I just dropped my first mixtape. It was called #boostUP. I just dropped it on December 30th and it’s available everywhere, Apple Music, iTunes, all that stuff.”
Is it on Spotify as well?
“Yes. It’s on Audiomag, Dat Piff, Google Play, Amazon, it’s on everywhere. Check it out.”
Jazz: just the word alone conjures up many images, perhaps old photographs of noir-drenched scenarios, a dark underground club in New York, a range of colors and beats bounding together in a seamless and yet non seamless dysphoria.
One thing that jazz is not supposed to be, however, is forgettable.
Mike Casey, captured by Airen Miller Photography.
Mike Casey, 23, originally hails from Hartford, Connecticut, and fronts the Mike Casey Trio. As a saxophonist, he is very passionate about bringing jazz to the forefront of musical experience.
“It kind of just becomes background music if the crowd is there to eat and not listen, which is something that jazz musicians often deal with because, many times, it’s instrumental music,” Casey said. “There’s no words, so someone who doesn’t understand the music might just think, ‘Oh, this is supposed to be background music’ but it was never really supposed to be background music.”
The difference between jazz and other types of music, like funk, is that it exceeds more than one dimension.
This, according to Casey, is because the other musicians in the group are not necessarily following a lead musician. Instead, they are initiating a conversation through their music. (Amongst these co-conversationalists is harpist Brandee Younger.)
“In jazz, if I’m soloing, not only are there people playing with me but they’re actually improvising how they respond and how they accompany me and I’m reacting to what they do and how they accompany me,” Casey said.
In 2017, the Mike Casey Trio released their debut album, the The Sound of Surprise, which has been hailed as “enjoyable from first to last note” by jazz critic Sammy Stein.
The chordless trio, comprised of Casey, who alternates between tenor and alto sax, bassist Matt Dwonszyk and drummer Corey Garcia, jive well together. Casey went to high school with Dwonszyk and the two have been playing together in one way or another for eight years. He met Garcia three years ago in Hartford and said he has contributed quite a bit in concept and style.
Airen Miller Photography.
“We have some really awesome chemistry and we’re able to kind of read each other’s minds and surprise each other and kind of make things happen in new, interesting ways,” Casey said.
For Casey, who describes his music as “passionate, raw and powerful,” it is imperative to elicit a strong emotional response from the audience.
One of the tracks on the album, Dagobah, has a surprising inspiration: Star Wars.
“Dagobah is the swamp planet that Yoda is hiding out on and Skywalker is supposed to teach Yoda how to learn to be a jedi,” Casey said. “It’s a weird place for a jedi hiding out. He was pretty nervous about going there.”
Casey compared his decision to stay in Hartford to Dagobah, as he believed it facilitated a learning experience that he perhaps might not have received in other places.
“If you ask any young musician where are you going to study jazz, you’d expect to hear New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, even Chicago,” Casey said. “But Hartford, by all odds, has actually had a lot of amazing jazz musicians for whatever it is you do.”
He has, however, already graced several nightclubs in New York, including the famous Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem.
According to Casey, jazz is anything but background music for the denizens of New York’s famously jazz-infused neighborhood.
“With people in Harlem, jazz to them is not just music. It’s a religious experience,” Casey said. “It’s like a spiritual thing and even though, usually, people are there listening, you can just feel that their connection to it is different than most other places I’ve played.”
Born out of the African diaspora and African-American struggle, said Casey, jazz was historically the music of the Civil Rights Movement and represents freedom.
One need look no further than Max Roach’s bone-chilling “Freedom Now Suite” to ascertain that jazz music has, at its essence, liberation and boundary-defying characteristics.
Casey, however, feels that he is not a prodigy and in this regard, identifies with one of his idols who also frequented Minton’s Playhouse.
“Thelonious Monk has already been an influence to me in the sense of that he was willing to stick to what he believes and what he wants to sound like, no matter what, and that’s something that I think I relate to because, in a certain sense, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to jazz music,” Casey said. “Jazz has always been kind of obsessed with prodigies and people becoming really good really quickly and although I’ve been playing for a while, that wasn’t really my story.”
Part of Casey’s story was finding his voice as a musician.
Or so he thought, until a conversation with another of his idols sparked a realization about creative discovery.
“That’s kind of how I always looked at it until that conversation with Sonny (Rollins), where he said, ‘You already sound like you. You are you. It’s really not necessarily finding it. It’s more about becoming a better version and refining it,’” Casey said. “Changing that outlook on it has helped me tremendously and made me kind of dig deeper within myself.”
At the end of the day, it’s about connecting with the audience.
Mike Casey playing with Marc Cary’s Harlem Sessions at Gin Fizz in 2015.
“I want people not just to observe and listen but to really feel what I’m doing and that doesn’t mean you have to like it. They might hate it,” Casey said. “But, at least, I want them to feel it.”
“Searching for what we hope to find. We’re just crooked lines,” sings Canadian band Autopilot on their latest release, Hurricane.
Based in Saskatoon, Saskachewan, the band, composed of guitarist and singer Marlon Harder, bassist Colton Fehr and drummer Jose A. Fuenzalida, are about to wrap up an extensive North American tour that has taken them all the way from Baltimore to Los Angeles. For Autopilot, being on tour can be strenuous but also rewarding, as Harder points out.
“The whole thing is that you get up and you have to make long drives all the time. When you tour Canada, nothing’s close for the most part,” Harder says. “Even in the States, we’re only getting maybe three to five hours of driving but we’ll be on an eight-hour day in the van and that gets really tiring real quick.”
Harder is quick to point out, however, that touring is one of the most worthwhile experiences a band can have, saying that it’s the best feeling ever when you play a show and get to meet different bands in addition to new people.
It seems the idea of the road or escape is one of the motifs that the band is becoming known for, as the cover for their previous album ‘Desert Dreams’ features a bus on a lone road in the middle of nowhere.
Being on tour gives the band time to escape the cold climate of Saskatoon, which Harder points out is actually conducive to perfecting their craft.
“The climate we come from is pretty cold, so we spend more time playing because there’s not a whole lot to do when it’s minus-40 outside. So you spend more time writing and recording and rehearsing, trying to progress a little on what we’re doing,” Harder says.
The band’s sound has progressed extensively, from being aggressive, initially, and reminiscent of emo, to become ambient and melancholy.
As of late, the band has been utilizing a new technique for distortions – a bow on the guitar..
“To progress our sound more, we came up with new sounds on guitar and new effects,” Harder says. “The two songs that came out were kind of close, kind of styled together, but we have quite a bit of other songs we’re working on and I think there’s a whole new sound. We’re still called Autopilot, but it sounds a bit different from other stuff we’ve done.”
Their tour concluded on November 26th in Saskatoon, and afterwards, the band has plans to sit down in the bitter cold and release their latest album, which they are currently writing on the road.
“As soon as we get back, we’ll be doing vocals for December and possibly part of January. Then, we’ll be planning the next two tours and the exact release date of the album,” Harder says. “It’s all I do all day, just focus on this. It’s a lot of fun. It’s better than going to a shitty day job.”
Please note: Although many outlets have removed their coverage of “Eduardo Martins”, we have kept the following piece up on our website to date, as originally published (with photography and links redacted, and the title revised as of September 10, 2017), to facilitate the content of outlets exposing “Eduardo Martins” as a fraud to readers across the world. This is no endorsement of his actions, but we hope it serves as a documentation of his betrayal, evidence of his false claims, and a reminder to be thorough as journalists, writers, editors, and content creators.
You’ll want to read this brief editorial explaining the falsehoods stated by “Eduardo Martins” in this piece before you proceed.
Eduardo Martins is a documentary photographer from Sao Paolo, Brazil and humanitarian at the UN Refugee Agency. You may have seen his work in Vice, Le Point, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Telegraph. Captivated by the depth of his work, we asked him to share what his work conveys about Martins’ perspective and experiences in the field.
It seems like you’ve been privy to some pretty frightening situations. How do you balance your role as an objective observer/photojournalist and wanting to help the people you are photographing?
During my work, there are many moments in which I spend time beyond the camera and end up getting involved with the people I’m photographing. Once in Iraq shooting a conflict, I stopped shooting to help a boy who was hit by a molotov, dropped the camera and helped get him out of the conflict area. In scenes like this, which are common in my work, I stop being a photographer and become a human being. I can not be impartial in these moments.
There’s a strong sense of humanity in your photos. I think particularly of the photo in Gaza with the man in the damaged Audi and also of the barely-visible eyes of one of your female fighters. Do you talk to people before you take their photos or do you prefer to be candid with your photography? Why?
I always try to talk to people, to be able to shoot properly. Sometimes, in certain types of situations, I have to act immediately, so we can not have this kind of communication. But when I can talk and try to know the story of each one, it changes my perception of how I set the scene and shoot.
Which area out of all that you’ve photographed did you find most difficult to be in and why?
The most difficult and dangerous place that I’ve photographed was Syria, because it is a place that is constantly in this very serious civil war. It is very hard to work there; the risk of life is imminent. Once, in a conflict between the Free Syrian Army and the opposition forces of the Bashar government, I took a glancing shot. I believe, without a shadow of doubt, the most dangerous place to be right now is Syria.
What initially inspired you to take up photography?
I always liked to photograph, then I had a serious illness, so I was unable to work for years. When I was healed, I decided to invest in my humanitarian and photographer side and moved to Paris and started working in the NGO Children’s Safe Drinking Water. From that moment on, I started to travel to places with social problems where I started shooting this reality. I joined the humanitarian work with photography, which ended up working very well.
What is your favourite photo you’ve ever taken? Why is that?
It is difficult to highlight a favorite picture. I have several, but they are the ones that took the most out of me while shooting. Not only the final result, but what I went through to be able to transform the scene into a photograph that conveys something to the viewer. I like a lot of my work in the Gaza Strip, have a great identification with the Palestinian people, and because of that I do my best to do a good job.
What is your definition of what constitutes a good photo?
What makes a good photo to me is the power it has to touch the viewer, I believe it’s crucial to bring the feeling in photography, and I try to portray faithfully to the public what I see and feel by clicking a situation.
What are your thoughts on photoshop and editing programs that so many photographers currently use? Do you think that these programs contradict the purpose and mission of photojournalism?
I think that nowadays the photographer has many tools at his disposition to help in their work. I personally do not use any program like photoshop; I believe that a good real photographer does not need to edit the image, he does a good job even without these tools. I respect those who use the program, but I don’t see it as part of the development of my job.
What made you become involved in the UN Agency Refugee program and why?
At CSDW, we worked at the UN refugee camps most of the time. I worked a lot in the Middle East and met many people who were part of the UN, which turned out to be very positive to open doors and start working with the UN. This year I was invited to work as a humanitarian in the agency. It was a great honor and I immediately accepted their invitation.
What is your mission when you travel to a new place to photograph? What are you searching for or hoping to document when beginning new projects?
I will always photograph places with social problems; I always look for this type of subject. I want to show the public the reality of these places, telling the story through my work, something that can impact and bring a willingness to change to the next. My favorite subjects are definitely conflicts and social problems around the world, so when I have an assignment I always look for places facing these humanitarian issues. My favorite places are in the Middle East and Africa.
If you were to have a personal motto, what would you say it would be and why?
My motto is always where there is chaos there is also beauty, which is what I try to show in my work and in places that have such a difficult reality to be faced. I try to show the good side of each place, people, and situation. Basically, my motto is to awaken compassion within the viewer, touch the heart of each one deeply so that they are moved to make a difference in the places they live through charity and compassion to the next.
Which photographs(s) of yours has/have generated the most reaction from the public and/or the journalism community?
My work in Syria and Iraq have more prominence in the journalistic media, after all it is more photojournalistic than documentary. But the general public appreciates a lot of my work in Gaza because of the human side that I picture. Finally, I just hope all my work can touch every person in a way, whichever that is.
Dr. Jill Stein is tireless, fearless and just won’t stop… watch video of the interview or scroll for the Q&A.
Are you tired from your trip throughout North Carolina?
“Well, it’s been like an unending trip for four or five months. I just have very little time in between trips, and I was just in Maryland. Before that, I was in Texas, and it’s been almost non-stop for the last…I did have like a week break a ways back.”
It sounds like you’ve had a very busy schedule.
“It is busy but it’s really fun. It’s very, very fun. When you’re doing campaign travelling, it’s not like you get to sightsee (laughs) or anything. It’s more just meeting with people but it’s been so exciting how there’s a real sea change going on right now.”
One of the things that a lot of people are very passionate about is voting for Bernie Sanders, but few of them have heard of you. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I agree more with Jill,’ particularly on your military policy, not giving money to Israel for weapons, but they’ll say that, kind of what you were saying, voting for Bernie is the lesser evil compared to Republicans. What would you say to them? Why would you encourage them to not go be trapped between those two parties?
“Yeah, in terms of Bernie, I think what Bernie is doing is great inside the Democratic Party and he’s really stirring up a hornet’s nest of discontent that was already there. He’s just really elevating that discussion and that’s really wonderful. The downside is that the Democratic party has a kill switch for rebellious candidates, and they’ve done this for decades ever since George McGovern managed to get the nomination since 1972. Democrats created Super Tuesday and Super Delegates, which are both things that ensure that the nomination will go to an insider, not to a reformer. So, it’s unfortunate that Bernie’s going to get knocked out, and you can see the resistance growing now, and Bill Clinton is recruiting the Super Delegates, which are basically delegates that ensure that Hillary has the margin of difference, if she should need it. So it virtually ensures that Bernie is going to be knocked out of contention. I think it’s great for people to support his campaign, but at some point they’re going to need a plan B, so that all their work doesn’t get dumped down the drain.
Bernie has already said he’s going to support Hillary when she gets the nomination and I think most of his really ardent supporters don’t want to go there. They don’t want to support the banks. They don’t want to support this–”
“Yes, Hillary, board member of Wal-Mart, and they don’t want to support the devastating foreign policies that have created failed states and have created ISIS to start with the blowback of terrorism from the beginning.
I think people with insight don’t want to go there, so people need a plan B with Bernie’s campaign, and I say go for it. Give Bernie his best shot. Fingers crossed that he gets it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath and if he doesn’t get it, you’ve got a place to go. So, I don’t feel like we have an argument with Bernie supporters. It’s a different strategy. So, I think your question had two parts. It was sort of, what’s our relationship to Bernie? And why not the lesser evil? Bernie aside, why should young people not support the lesser evil?
Well, one reason is that the lesser evil is not going to get them out of debt. The lesser evil, you know, Hillary is not really proposing free public higher education, which is what we’re calling for. Why is that? Because we shouldn’t treat the younger generation like a cash cow to squeeze maximum dollars out of. Young people should have a secure start in life, which is what a high school degree used to represent. Now, you need a college degree, so, in my view, that is the responsibility of the older generation. However, it’s an investment that pays for itself. We know that from the GI Bill, every dollar that we put into college education for returning soldiers following the Second World War. We get back seven dollars in return for every dollar we put in. So, this is not just like a nice thing to do. This is the really profitable and practical thing to do.
So, there is another reason why young people should not support the lesser evil. The expanding wars and the chaos that’s being created, that is blowing back at us in a very personal way. We’re not going to see that get better under Hillary. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Hillary may be talking the talk. However, she has decades worth of walking the walk, and it’s clear what Hillary’s policies are. Hillary and her husband brought us NAFTA, that closed tens of thousands of factories and sent millions of jobs overseas. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is more of the same. Hillary might tweak something about it, but she’s a supporter of these corporate trade deals.
So, you know, if you want a job, if you want to get out of debt and have a future, and if you want to do something about the climate so that we actually have a planet we can inhabit, those are all reasons why you don’t want to settle for the lesser evil. The lesser evil is getting lesser all the time, and we say, you know, it’s time to forget the lesser evil and fight for the greater good.”
So in terms of the attacks in Paris, what do you think was behind Europe’s failure to close their borders or not recognize that these attacks were imminent and that they were a threat?
“It reflects how the security state totally misses the target. In this country, the security state has been challenged actually by a Congressional committee to exactly identify what terrorist threats have been aborted thanks to the security state, and they couldn’t come up with any. The NSA couldn’t come up with any examples of success. Basically, it creates a much larger haystack in which to try to find the needle.
So I think there are two points here, which is that, you know, we need old-fashioned intelligence but blanket surveillance, dragnet surveillance of everybody, is not effective and it’s extremely expensive. We’re barking up the wrong tree here. We should raise questions and investigate people for whom we have warrants, for whom there is reason to suspect that they are engaged in illegal or dangerous activity and who are actually threats. But to consider everyday citizens a threat basically annihilates the essential tenets of democracy, and we’ve seen that it makes finding the valuable information even more impossible. So, it’s a failed system.
But I think the other point here is that the answer here is not simply find the bad guys before they attack, but let’s actually pull the rug out from them to start with. We can dismantle ISIS. We created ISIS. We can dismantle ISIS and we can dismantle further, future security threats by undoing what is creating ISIS. So that means these horrific wars and massive slaughter of civilians, just the horror that just took place in Paris, is much like the horror that’s been taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria on a daily basis. That is the best recruiting tool imaginable for the terrorist groups.
So, our current foreign policy is our own greatest enemy right now, and, furthermore, our allies have been funding ISIS. So, we need to get the Saudis to stop funding ISIS. We ourselves have been directly or indirectly supplying arms to ISIS. The people that we train then defect and move over. Yes, they are the troops in ISIS. We supply 80 percent of the weapons to the Middle East, so we could lead an arms embargo to basically disarm ISIS. We can do that now. We can ask our friends, Turkey, to please close their border to the flow of militias to support and reinforce ISIS. We can ask our allies in Iraq to please stop buying the oil of ISIS on the black market and that is a pretty complete plan to essentially cut the legs out from under of ISIS and dismantle it.
To go in with more bombs and drones or special-ops, which are all in practice right now, is to ensure that we are guaranteeing the next ISIS. You have to ask, how much amnesia do these guys have on Capitol Hill? Democrats and Republicans, who are talking about doing more of what has been failing us since Vietnam, going in and shooting ‘em up when you’re talking about, you know, not your old-fashioned army that’s dressed in their red coats. That doesn’t work. You cannot assault a guerilla army using old-fashioned techniques. You have to stop funding them. You have to stop arming them. You have to stop allowing reinforcements to cross the border. It’s not rocket science how to do this. Unfortunately, we have a foreign policy, and that is to sell weapons.”
To wreak havoc.
“Wreak havoc and therefore sell more weapons for the weapons industry and likewise to ensure routes of fossil fuel, either supply or transportation. So between the weapons industry and the fossil fuel industry, we’ve got the wrong guys calling the shots in Washington, D.C. on foreign policy. We need a foreign policy that actually serves the American people.
Our plan for the Green New Deal basically ensures that wars for oil become a thing of the past. It ensures that we will have abundant, healthy energy resources here — wind, water and sun — by 2030. So it takes the momentum out. It takes the steam out from this disastrous foreign policy aimed towards total economic and military domination, which is blowing back at us madly, creating failed states and terrorism and massive refugee migrations, all of which is coming home to roost. So, we don’t have a choice now. We really need to stand up and do the right thing and join the community of nations that has been trying to do the right thing in spite of the hammer and the U.S. and the largest military — more than the next seven biggest all combined world-over — this hammer that we have been bringing down over the rest of the world that is destroying the climate, that is destroying any semblance of peace and security, and has also now rendered nuclear confrontation another real and present danger.
So, on the basis of those three really dramatic dangers, we need an about-face to a policy based on international law, human rights and diplomacy.”
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about moving? Why would you encourage them not to move? Or would you encourage them to move and be an activist from the outside?
“So, one thing I would say is that you can move away geographically but you cannot move away politically. The problems that are raging inside of America are really raging everywhere else and on the pathway that we’re on, you know, you have a multi-national corporate government, which is essentially taking over everywhere. If it’s allowed to continue, you’re not going to have free education around the world or healthcare. So, it’s not like you can leave this battle behind. This battle has dimensions that not go far beyond our borders. So, it’s not as though that’s even an option.
“But the other one I would say is really important, is, well, a couple of them. One is that we have to fight this battle here because the corporate predators, these multinational predators, are really coming out of America and they have to be conquered here in America. We have to regain human rights and end the usurping of human rights by corporate rights. We need to restore our rights and put an end to the rights of corporate personhood and, just the political battles that have to be fought anywhere have to be fought here as well. So, we need you here, and, furthermore, let me say this, you know, people have been brow-beaten into thinking that we’re powerless. In the words of Alice Walker, ‘The biggest way people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with.’
One out of every two Americans now is in poverty or low-income, heading into poverty. 40 million young people are in debt, with no way out. One in three African-American men is held hostage by the prison state. Latinos and immigrants in general are facing the threat of deportation, and, yes, terrible mistreatment. Likewise, in the Black Lives Matter movement, police violence is an issue. You start adding these numbers up, and we have not just a quorum. You know, we have a majority here, potentially even a supermajority.
There are 40 million young people alone, if they get into their rebellious heads the idea that they can come out and check the green box to end debt, because there’s only one campaign in the presidential race that will put an end to student debt. 40 million young people is actually enough to take over the election. I can’t fault young people at all for apathy in a system that has basically thrown you under the bus, so why should people pay attention?
However, it’s really important to get the word out that you don’t have to get thrown under the bus, in fact you can take over the bus. You do not need to be under the bus. You can be in the bus. You can be driving the bus. You can own the bus. You have the numbers to do that and we want to get that simple message out to young people. Just come out and vote. Register to vote now. Register green because that’s where debt liberation is. Register now. It’s not only debt liberation. It’s free public higher education. It’s health care as a human right and it’s the right to a job, a full-time job and a living wage job. So, we can bring the decency and security that they used to have over in Europe. We can ensure that we have it here by standing up now because we have the numbers. This is a wake-up moment. It’s a transformative moment. This is the Hail Mary moment. We’re going over the waterfall if we don’t act now. If we do act now, we have the numbers and we have the solutions to actually make this work, on jobs, on the climate, on global peace and security, on education and health care. This is not rocket science. This is about standing up, forgetting the lesser evil, and fighting for the greater good.”
There was an article in the Syracuse, New York newspaper about when you were handcuffed when you attended the Democratic debate. Would you go into detail more about what happened to you?
“Sure, and this is what they didn’t want you to know, and this is why we were taken to a dark site and held there until the press had all gone home. They’re terrified that people should get word that they actually have a choice. We were at the Presidential debate. It might have been the last one. I think it was the last one. It was at Hofstra University on Long Island and my running mate and I attended with the hope of getting in to just be in the audience and bear witness because we should have been IN the debate. We were on the ballot for 85 percent of voters.
Voters deserve to know that they had a range of choices. They weren’t locked down to these two business-as-usual political parties that had minor differences around the margins. But if you listen to that debate, they basically agreed with each other on almost all counts, on warmongering, on more coal plants and pipelines. Obama was bragging about how many pipelines he built and miles of pipeline to wrap around the Earth, once or more, I don’t know. So we thought voters had a right. So, we tried to get into the campus to listen to the debate and we were arrested for trying to get in. They need to control their audience. They need an audience that’s going to cheer madly. So, they can’t, won’t, let any old member of the public come out and witness these debates, and certainly not a presidential candidate that represented another option.
So we were arrested trying to get in. We were handcuffed. We were taken by the security forces and Secret Service, actually, Secret Service and police, to a dark site and actually our campaign was able to find out by talking to undisclosed sources. They were able to track down where we were and they called a lot of police stations and found out where it was and they were able to sort of hone in on us. They showed up and they were told that they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the premises. They were not even allowed to stay in the parking lot or be anywhere near because they weren’t supposed to know where we were and they didn’t want anybody else to know.
So, we were taken to this dark site. There were approximately 16 Secret Service and police. It was a huge, converted police facility. It looked like an old gym or something that had been converted. My running mate and I were the only people there initially and eventually they brought in a reporter, a journalist and independent media journalist, who was supposed to be covering Chelsea Manning’s trial the next day. They arrested this journalist for taking pictures of Secret Service taking pictures. So, this journalist was taking pictures back at the spy state that didn’t want pictures taken, so they arrested him. So it was the three of us, basically political prisoners that were being held in this dark site. We were handcuffed to these metal chairs tightly for seven hours and we were released without cell phones, without jackets. We were basically turned out into the street without any way to contact anyone late at night in November out in the freezing cold, just sort of walking the streets until we could find some kind person that allowed us to use their cell phones for us to get back in touch.
That’s how scared they are that word should get out that people actually have a choice that is of, by and for the people.”
What did you say earlier about the press, like their mission, about the affliction and the oppressed? It’s to comfort the afflicted, and–
“Afflict the comfortable. Right. That is supposed to be sort of the moral mission of a free press. If a free press simply comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted, that’s oligarchy. That’s aristocracy.”
“Really. A free press is supposed to ensure that the questions are asked to the powerful all the time. They’re not supposed to empower the powerful, but that’s what they do. So, that’s how, it’s not just independent campaigns that are locked out. It’s young people that are locked out. It’s African-Americans who are trying to walk down the street without being assaulted, or to drive a car without being shot. These are the kind of questions that should be asked, that, you know, where the press has given up the ghost, and when people say to me, ‘Isn’t it hopeless? Why are you bothering running?,’ I say, well, change the pronoun there.
It’s not me. It’s not me that’s at stake. What about young people who are at stake? Is it hopeless for them? You know, is it hopeless for African-Americans who want to end police violence? Is it hopeless for people who can’t afford health care, even through Obamacare? Are you telling us it’s hopeless? If you’re saying that, you are telling us that we do not have a democracy, which is reason for us all to rise up right now and fight against what you appear to be defending. ‘If you think it’s hopeless, Mr. representative of the corporate press, isn’t it your responsibility to make it hopeful by opening up this discussion?’
In terms of universities and colleges, even with the UNC system, we can’t even have a free press here. We’re pretty much under the grasp and control of the administration, and then colleges all across the country have corporate deals that are funded. It just seems like a twisted web of bureaucracy and money. What do you think has to happen in order for the system to be dismantled?
“That’s exactly what they want you to think. They want you to think that you are marginal, that your values and your vision is at the fringe, and that it’s hopeless. That is their game plan. Because if you’re hopeless, then you’re powerless. But the reality is to reject the lesser evil, to reject their propaganda, to reject the powerlessness and the hopelessness that they’re trying so hard to convince you of, because they are quaking in their boots.
When I was tricked into running for office for the first time, back in 2002, running against Mitt Romney for governor, we were able to fight our way into a debate and inside that debate hall, which didn’t have an audience — it was just the candidates and the moderator — I spoke up for the everyday public interest agenda: jobs, healthcare and education as a human right, cutting the military, greening our energy system, even back then, educating the whole student for lifetime learning, not through a standardized high-stakes test. Those ideas went over like a lead balloon, inside this debate hall, which were just the candidates and moderator.
But when we walked out, I was mobbed by the press for the first time and the last time. They have since been otherwise instructed, and what they said to me was that, ‘You’ve won the debate on the instant online viewer poll’ and that completely changed my thinking about this whole process. I had the sense I was doing this out of kind of my moral responsibility, but felt like, oh, it was pretty hopeless, and then I realized, oh my god, it’s not hopeless at all. We have won in the court of public opinion, which is the hardest place to win. We have two public relations agents that you could not buy for billions of dollars. One is the climate, and the other one is the economy and they have been persuading people to win them over to the right side of history, and people have been won over.
So, the fact that the political establishment works so hard to silence us is evidence of their fear and how powerful we are. In my view, this is all about communicating to each other, mobilizing each other. 40 million strong, we are unstoppable. 40 million is the number of young people who are in debt. If we can just get the word out to young people in debt, come on out. Have a party. Go to your voting booth. Cancel your debt by voting green and let’s have an afterparty, a victory party. If 40 million people come out, debt is over, free public higher education is around the corner and all kinds of other things. But we can win a three-way-race with a little more than 40 million votes. It depends on turnout. Normally it’s around 120 million, possibly a little bit more. So 40 million is sort of what it takes. Throw in 25 million Latinos that have learned that–”
The Democrats are not the party for them?
“Really. The Democrats are the party of deportation. Republicans are the party of hate and fearmongering. That’s 25 million Latinos who vote, and once students lead the charge, and students are always the ones who lead the charge, in a time of transformation and social upheaval. It’s always the younger generation that finds our way forward, which is why it’s so important that we liberate our younger generation from debt peonage right now because it knocks you out of political activity. Without the younger generation to re-envision and re-imagine our society and our future, all hope is lost. So it’s not good for the students. It’s good for all of us and it can actually win this race, and can change our political dynamics right now.
Starting on November 8th, we actually can have that political revolution. It won’t happen inside the Democratic Party, but it will happen because young people wake up to their power. It’s powerlessness that makes them indifferent. Once word gets out that the power is in your hands, we will see that turn on its head overnight.”
What is your position on banks? Would you bring back the Glass-Steagall Act if you could?
“And more. So the Glass-Steagall Act is a very important protection so that the investment bankers are not gambling with public money. Right now, they can do that and they can do all kinds of other abuses that are, well, they’re doing that. They’re doing that big time. In fact, the banks are bigger and more consolidated than they were before the crash in 2007. So, there’s every reason for us to bring back Glass-Steagall but not only that. We should break up the big banks right now. We need public ownership of the banks. We need banks in the public interest, not banks for the private interest. The same goes for the Federal Reserve, which needs to be a public institution, which is transparent and run on behalf of taxpayers and America, not on behalf of private banks and their profits, and we need to create those public banks, not only at the national level, but at the community level.
We need public banks which will be transformative in terms of our public budgets to basically reduce borrowing, essentially to the size of the loan and not have to pay enormous interest rates for municipalities, for public interests and state budgets. To be able to draw on our own banking system, not on a predatory banking system, will save us so much money and put dollars back into our budgets that enable us to meet human needs. This is a win-win. The Post Office used to provide this and there’s a movement now to restore public banking through the Post Office, which is one that we could get up and running right now.”
The Post Office has been kind of on the decline for a while. It’s really sad.
“Because it’s under attack. This is no failing of the Post Office. This was a specific attack by Congress to again privatize a public resource.”
If you were to say what the number one problem in America was, which one would you choose and why?
“I think we have two crises that come together. One is the climate crisis, and the other one is the economic crisis, and they are inseparable. Contrary to the mythology out there, you can’t just choose one, because you’ve got to fix them both. You can’t fix the economy without also fixing the climate and the ecosystems that the economy depends on and likewise, you can’t fix the climate unless you take care of the people and the economy, so they need to be fixed together. That’s what our Green New Deal is about. The Green New Deal basically creates 20 million jobs, full-time jobs, living wage jobs that green our economy to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030.
That means declaring an emergency, as we did after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It took us six months to transform the economy to a wartime footing. In 15 years, we can transform the economy to a totally green footing, 100 percent. Phase out nuclear and fossil fuel. Decommission them safely, now, while it can still be done and before the floodwaters seriously start rising and detonate the nuclear power plants, or by way of drought. There are just so many ways that they can become another Chernobyl.
So, these are catastrophes that are all sort of bound up in this one issue of the climate in our energy crisis, which can be fixed through the Green New Deal, creating the jobs that move us to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, also, to a healthy, sustainable food system and public transportation. Those are three areas of focus and we include in that meeting human needs as well, so we have social services, child care, home care, elderly care, etc. We train people up and we provide the funding for that, and it turns out to pay for itself, and I’ll explain in a minute. But in one fell swoop we revive the economy, we turn the tide on climate change, and, more importantly, we make wars for oil obsolete by moving to 100 percent clean renewable energy.
There is no longer a justification or a rationale for these horrific, immoral, catastrophic wars that are blowing back at us. So this is many solutions rolled into one, and the windfall from this is that our health gets so much better the minute we end the use of these toxic fossil fuels and all of their derivatives and pollutants. That savings alone from sickcare we don’t have to do is enough to actually pay the costs of the green energy conversion. It’s actually rather staggering. This has been worked out in detail, both by modelling studies but it’s also in real-world development that actually happened in Cuba when their oil pipeline went down when the Soviet Union collapsed.They got so much healthier. Their death rates from diabetes went down 50 percent. Their death rates from heart attacks and strokes went down 25 to 35 percent. Their obesity rates went down 50 percent.
All these amazing things happened when they had to transform overnight to a healthy diet, a healthy energy system, and a system of transportation that allowed them to integrate activity into getting where they were going. Again, we can do all of that. It cost them zero dollars to have a health revolution we cannot buy. Three trillion dollars a year is what we spend. It’s not a healthcare system. It’s a sickcare system that we’re spending $3 trillion a year on.
So the Green New Deal, it’s many solutions wrapped into one. If I’d have to say there’s one crisis, that is it. It’s this economic, ecological crisis, a systemic crisis of a predatory system. We can change that to a system that puts people over profit, that puts the planet over profit, and peace over profit.”
The Divestment Coalition on campus is very much against the university investing in fossil fuels. They went to speak to the Chancellor during her open office hours, and they confronted her not in an aggressive way, but in a very cordial way and they proposed divesting and how it would be good for the school because a lot of the schools, particularly in Asheville, promote green energy. But, it’s kind of like a pseudo-campaign and she said that she could praise their work, but not publicly support full divestment. They were kind of discouraged by that, obviously, and said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know about our campaign,’ but after awhile, they got motivated again. What do you think it’s going to take for students to realize they have to fight for the environment at all costs?
“I think the name of the game is linking these issues, and, for example, in the Green New Deal, we link jobs and the economy with the climate and we also bring in the need to liberate students in debt, so that we can get to that place. So, it’s very hard for people to think about the climate when they can hardly figure out where their next meal is coming from, and how they’re going to stay off the streets. This is why this system right now of debt peonage for young people is so dangerous politically.
So, it’s not so much to activate students, but rather to liberate students. We need to liberate students from debt and then they can take on all kinds of things, and they will take on all kinds of things. So, I will be supporting your efforts on campus. In fact, we’re really encouraging campus efforts for the campaign that allow us to bring this message there, this message of empowerment to young people that point out there’s a solution, and it’s not very many months away.
We can actually end student debt on Nov. 8th. Come out and end student debt and then we can deal with a whole bunch of other solutions for these problems they tell you just can’t be solved. ‘Please go home. Go to bed. Be depressed. Don’t get out. Because, it’s hopeless. Please believe me. I’m a politician. Trust me. It’s hopeless.’
That’s kind of the line that they are feeding young people. That needs to be rejected.”
It’s like fast food.
“Exactly. That’s our motto. Reject the lesser evil. Fight for the greater good and we need to liberate young people in order to do that.”
Thank you so much.
“Thank you. Bring some of those apathetic young people and challenge them. The solution to apathy and depression is power.”
At football games, even, you sit in the seats and realize the power of people in numbers. They were shoving fast food in their faces and painting their faces different colors for the team. It was an energy beyond so many other experiences. If people could actually be fighting in these numbers for their rights…
“Well, you know, what’s really interesting, I mean, football is a really good example, because that’s how the University of Missouri just showed their chancellor and their chairman of the board or the president, I think, showed them the door after all these horrible, racist developments on campus and the failure of the administration to take racism as a serious issue. The students stood up and then the football team stood up, which really gets to the pocket book, and it’s very interesting that you bring this up, because we’re seeing on the ground mobilization of the African-American community on climate change, recognizing that it’s African-Americans that paid the price with Katrina, who still haven’t come back. 100,000 have not been able to come.
You know, this environmental racism is what’s going on with the climate crisis. I think to start a dialogue with the football team, that’s another aspect of racism that we need their help on, that we need to engage them in the fight not only against racism and police violence, but racism in the climate crisis that is coming down on the heads of the community of color all over the world, harder than anywhere else. That would be a wonderful dialogue to begin.”
Did you see the video of the journalist who tried to get into the Mizzou group that was gathering? It was supposedly a safe space. It was really interesting because there was a discussion about this in class. It’s the issue of free speech, and then Mizzou’s cause to protest against the racism, but it was such an intersection of different things because the press represents so much negativity for people of color. What do you think of that incident?
“You know, I guess I don’t know the details of that incident. The one I was aware of was an independent journalist who wanted the cover the confrontation and it was the administration that threw him out. They got security to take the press out because they didn’t want the press reporting on what was going on. So, I think the bottom line is that we need an accountable press. We need a free press. We have a name for the corporate press. We call them the ‘O-press’ or the ‘Re-press,’ if you know what I mean, instead of the real press, which is the independent press. But I think the larger point here is that we need a unified coalition for people, planet and peace over profit and when we get together, whether it’s football teams, African-Americans, the climate justice movement, the living wage movement, you know, you bring us together, we are an unstoppable force and on campus, we can bring together that coalition and, I think, to engage the dialogue between Black Lives Matter or the Moral Monday Movement and the climate movement and the student debt movement. This is where we become that unstoppable force that can take our future back and build the world that we deserve that puts people, planet and peace over profit.
We can create that now. It’s not just in our hopes. It’s not just in our dreams. It’s in our hands.”
Thank you for sticking up for our generation. That means so much.
“Oh my god. Well, it’s for all of our sake. It’s for your sake. We gotta do that, and make it happen right now and we could turn this around by Nov. 8th. But we’ll get the word out, and whether you actually win the election, or you win the day, by establishing that there is now an independent base of resistance from which we can build, then we’re on our way.”
Drawing upon, especially our generation, their tentativeness toward the two-party system and just toward our country, in general, there are so many people who…
“Who want to engage? Yeah, and they are staying home in record numbers and I think for people to know that whether we get five percent or 25 or 55, in a three-way race, technically, 34 percent can win the vote. So, I mean, there are all kinds of ways that we can win. But, you can even win in a rigged system. You may not win the vote count around first time, you know, and there are all kinds of ways it’s rigged. But, you can establish a base from which you then really challenge power. Richard Nixon gave all kinds of concessions to the movement. He was a very repressive, oppressive warhawk President, but he, you know, he brought the troops home from Vietnam, he passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and established the EPA and OSHA, and we got the women’s right to choose from the Supreme Court. How do we do that? Not by the lesser evil, but by standing up for who we are and what it is that we believe in. Democracy needs a moral compass. Silencing yourself and allowing a corporate, lesser evil to speak for you is a prescription for disaster because people will not come out and vote for the lesser evil.
So, it’s either evil, or it’s good, and I don’t mean that in sort of religious terms, but as a practical matter, we’re told to support the lesser evil all the time and it’s an absolute disaster. We need to stand up for the public good. We need to stand up for the greater good. It’s us or no one. Democracy needs that moral compass. If we silence ourselves, we’ve basically thrown in the towel and said, ‘Here, corporate America, who runs the corporate parties. You decide.’
In the words of Frederick Douglas, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ It never has and it never will. We need to stand up and be that demand. Then, we can build on that demand, and whether we get five percent or 55 percent, we have won the day. Once we stand up and we stand together, we will be an unstoppable force.”
When the Egyptian revolution occurred in 2011 and the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests followed in Ukraine, unless you were on the ground experiencing the catastrophic political turmoil, it was difficult to begin to comprehend the true sequence of events or how the people were responding to them.
Luckily, there is film, and people use film to make documentaries, to tell these stories. Sometimes, they are brave and take their cameras into war zones because they actually care about showing other people what is happening in their country. The filmmakers of both“The Square” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” assumed that bravery to chronicle the events surrounding both revolutions.
The cultural differences between the two countries are stark, it’s true, but the common element within both of these films is that they show people of all ages taking refuge in a central gathering place, a square that already holds cultural and historic significance. They claim it as their own, camping there for months in spite of the barrage of militancy exercised against their calls for accountability and independence from the government.
In 2011, around the time that the Arab Spring was taking place, I was in Berlin conducting interviews with different people there and in Egypt for an anthropological research paper about Egypt opening its border with Gaza. One of them, Mohamed Shoukry, a real estate agent living in Alexandria at that time, offered incredible insight into the situation depicted in “The Square.”
“A lot of people are in the political sphere who never appeared before the revolution. Their intention is to root out the corruption in Egypt, but this will take some time,” Shoukry said. “Even though now we may have been able to cut off its head, it has strong roots.”
“The Square” starts off with a bang, a gripping sense of immediacy that spares nothing on the imagination of the violence waged against the protesters who called for President Hosni Mubarak and the military to be deposed. We are introduced one by one to the activists playing a central part in speaking out against the oppressive Mubarak regime, a spectrum including reserved British-Egyptian actor and activist Khalid Abdalla and a bright, young idealist named Ahmed Hassan.
Ahmed Hassan in “The Square.” Photo credit: Netflix/Noujaim Films
The footage of Egyptian-American director Jehane Noujaim being chased by the military for documenting the event will render the audience shaken, and as the announcement of Mubarak’s concession is proclaimed, the fear and anxiety felt for the activists melts into joy. But wait…it’s not that far into the film now, right? Exactly. This is what makes “The Square” unpredictable and the emotional energy of its characters captivating.
The motif throughout the film is a vibrant mural depicting the success of the revolution in colors representative of the people’s joy toward Mubarak’s ousting. However, this is when the Shoukry’s insight helped place the revolution in greater perspective. The protesters optimistically retreated from the square, in pursuit of something resembling a democracy and someone resembling a responsible leader. That optimism is challenged, however, when the military seizes control shortly after the resignation of Mubarak. He was going to stand trial for the murder of peaceful protestors in this time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, his acquittal for this crime caused the protesters to return to “The Square”, and a new chapter in the film chronicles their growing despair.
Protesters, including a man holding tear gas cannisters, chant slogans and wave national flags during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011.
Magdy, another activist and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, brings an interesting dynamic to “The Square”, particularly when the Islamic group expands political leverage and influence after Mubarak abdicates office. The other activists, who are not particularly religious, are shown in the film as being on fair terms with Magdy. As The Brotherhood assumes growing power, however, and becomes increasingly brutal and militant toward the secular protesters, the relationship between Magdy and the other activists complicates.
The Armed Forces offer to supply The Brotherhood with weapons and political power within the government if they betrayed the revolutionaries. There are other sources, however, specifically one in the Washington Post, that claim The Brotherhood was portrayed inaccurately in the film and their image distorted falsely by the cosmopolitan activists in Tahrir Square.
“Politics is not the same as revolution. If you want to play politics, you have to compromise,” Abdalla says.
At the same time, he points out how The Brotherhood was the only strongly organized group amongst the crowd, and as the enthusiasm died down, it became evident who the players were: The Brotherhood or the old regime, now fronted by the military.
“It was a war in the square, not a revolution,” declares one of the other activists.
In 2012, when Morsi is “democratically” elected president, the growing agony is chronicled in the mural with a big, blood red line painted over his face. People take to Tahrir Square once again, and the protest exhibits an alarming new energy in communicating their rejection of another violent and oppressive leader.
Work by graffiti artist Abo Bakr on a street near Tahrir Square in Cairo as seen in Jehane Noujaim’s documentary, “The Square.” Credit: Courtesy of Noujaim Films
At one point in the documentary, he states, “Enough of this. All the politicians are failures.” Walking in the middle of a (surprisingly) empty street in Cairo, he makes a metaphor of himself, declaring “I’ve decided to walk in the middle of the street. The cars can do what they want.” He asserts, “I will stand my ground, enough walking cautiously on the side.”
In contrast to the optimism at the start of the film, it is this point when the growing tide of pessimism returns, with Abdalla stating that the rebels’ mistake was “in leaving the square before the power was in their hands.” The Brotherhood had been working alongside the military regime and took power, which enhanced Magdy’s visible anxiety about which side to invest allegiance in.
Protests against American support towards the Egyptian military were not included in the scant media coverage of the Tahrir Square uprisings. Credit: presstv.ir
When Morsi is ousted and sentenced to death, a sense of joy waves over the activists. Hassan, our charismatic guide, is revived from his dip into disillusionment at the news of the Muslim Brotherhood’s power play.
Hassan even calls up Magdy and speaks to him in a kind, jocular tone, showing that he did not want their relationship to be punctuated with the tension that had imploded between them when The Brotherhood had seized power.
The tone of the documentary, however, portends the uncertainty and volatile spirit of the events that have continuously been influencing the energy of the people. At the end, the film returns to Abdalla, whose serious, pensive demeanor stands out against Hassan’s fierce optimism.
“When you don’t have your rights, when you’re taken to the front, when you’ve been lied to, when you’re killed, things become pretty clear,” Abdalla conveys in a direct, sober manner.
Although, in the light of the context of Morsi’s ousting, this statement can be viewed as a victory, there is something about Abdalla that indicates he is not certain that Egypt will not continue to be politically volatile.
Red paint is shown dripping on the Converse of an artist working on the mural, a metaphor for how the young revolutionaries are influenced by secular culture and want to change the social and political mores of the country to align with ideals rejected as Western.
However, as returning to the mural throughout the film reminds us, there will be constant changes in the story of one of the greatest revolutions in the history of the world. With the Egyptian military in power, the story of whether or not the people remain as optimistic as they are portrayed at the end of the film remains fairly obscured at the moment.
“Winter on Fire” chronicled the November 2013-March 2014 protest that occurred in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev after then-President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement deal with the European Union, ultimately moving the country further into Russia’s circle of influence.
The documentary, directed by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, also places one in the middle of the action right away, showing how thousands of people who believed in Ukraine as a European nation took to Maidan (Independence) Square, a beautiful nexus in a capital symbolic of the ancient world (aligned by a medieval gate and an opulent cathedral) clashing with the modern, as fast food restaurants and hotels have popped up nearby.
It is once again the perfect place, as Tahrir was to Cairo, to symbolize the change that the people were waiting and looking for. After centuries of being tied to Russia under the Kievan Rus empire and beyond, they were hoping to become a modern, politically stable country.
The documentary is ultimately, I think, a bit more detached from the participants than “The Square” is. It feels more restrained and not so involved in their lives from the start, as you are not invited to know an integral set of activists. Here, the stories are magnified in-depth little-by-little as the film goes on.
That being said, the film, recorded by Ukrainian protesters, is a powerful testament to the joy and movement that was summoned forth when these events occurred and the people came together. Having travelled in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, one of the most distinct characteristics of the people was their melancholy demeanour. Years of starvation, suppression, economic peril and corrupt governments leave the region besieged by continually grey skies and an underlying lack of hope. That suffering is and will continue to be prevalent radiates and looms outward amongst the thin, cobbled corridors of their broken cities.
The wonderful part of this film is that as the momentum gains, the people realize that this could be the opportunity they have waited and secretly hoped so long for and the hope begins to appear in their eyes. People of all ages gathered at Independence Square, a majority of them dressed mostly in black parkas but with a few colourful grandmas, speaking different languages. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the non-religious: they were all there.
There was another group the film did not cover: those people who internalized nationalism the most. After speaking to a friend of mine who had insider knowledge of the Maidan protests, I learned that nearly all the fighters on the “front line” were members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi and right-wing parties. The movie, he said, left this fact out: that while the crowd was mainly a composition of people fighting for universal equality, there were also seedier elements that existed. These groups are, in a way, to the Maidan what the Brotherhood was to Tahrir.
It was, at its core, a peaceful protest, a loud call of disagreement with the government for giving up their chance to break away from the fringe status they maintained between Europe and Russia. There is a saying in Europe that I heard frequently: Poland is 10 years (development-wise) behind Germany, and Ukraine is 10 years behind Poland. This agreement would finally have kick-started Ukraine’s course into the European trajectory.
With snow falling on Independence Square, the atmosphere grows explosive as some protesters begin behaving violently. One of the peaceful activists opines that the Ukrainian riot police force (known as the Berkut) has planted people within the crowd in order to bring forth a reason for them to attack.
The cellos and violins that frame the events appropriately capture the restless melancholy throughout the film. The snow falls harder on the ancient square. The sparrows linger on the bare tree branches. An impending sense of doom lurks throughout the crowd, and an ancient church bell that had not been rung since the Mongol Tartar invasion in the 1240s grips everyone in its timbre.
Sure enough, the Berkut storms onto the square, descending like a swarm of locusts. Armed with iron rods, they attack, beating people viciously on the ground. A woman is shown leaning back against the tree. The blood stains on her face against the white wool hat she is wearing stand out as a pronounced metaphor, a taint against the purity of her idealistic behavior.
“Who gave birth to you, a mother or a wolf?,” one of the protesters asks, referring to the relentless brutality displayed by the Berkut.
There is, however, a discrepancy between how much blame the film levies on Yanukovych as the sole perpetrator and other factions of persecution taking place that were not mentioned.
“They paint Yanukovych as this blood-sucking demon of pure evil, but they miss the people who actually orchestrated a lot of the violence, like the people directly in charge of the Berkut police,” says Anton Guz, a graduate student pursuing a degree in peacebuilding and conflict transformation at SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont.
As the film goes on and the winter moves further along, the steam continues rising up from the make-shift kitchens and fires that the protesters have started in order to keep what has now become somewhat of an island alive. The supplies that became the fuel for the Maidan island were not revealed in the film. Specifically, volunteer drivers were bringing in medical supplies to the fighters and taking people to the hospital, as the roads to Kiev were blocked. There was a mass outcry of support for the protesters in Maidan, one of which, called AutoMaidan, was based in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a hub for nationalistic Ukrainian support.
The support and supplies brought in from various parts of the country fueled the ongoing struggle against the winter and the cold history that Ukraine did not want to continue to freeze itself into.
My favourite moments in the film, showing the peoples’ sense of humour and heart in the midst of a dim situation, were their responses to various bans placed on them by Yanukovych, one of which was ‘no helmets.’ They answered by putting on pots, pans, flippers, masks of all shapes and colours. It was quite unusual to see little babushkas roaming around this dystopian war zone with pots on their head, and the film juxtaposes this all-too-real-its-surreal element quite strongly throughout.
Guz was born in Ukraine and is quick to point out some aspects of the film that he found problematic, specifically Ukraine’s all-too-relevant relationship with Russia.
“I think that’s a nuance that’s dangerous to forget, since the master manipulators in this situation live in Moscow, not Kiev. But also, surely it’s important to actually name the culprits behind the violence, right?,” Guz said. “Where are they in the movie?”
The film shows the people walking over snow-covered pictures of Yanukovych as they enter a cathedral, where bodies of the dead are being carried. A slow, solemn heavy chant rises from the crowd paying final respects to friends and family members who have died.
In order to understand this scene and the context of the movie, it is important to keep in mind that Yanukovych was a tyrannical, greedy ruler, and one that was under orders from Russian president Vladimir Putin to not allow Ukraine to strengthen relations with Europe. However, he used his relationship with Putin as leverage, deceiving Putin into thinking that he had control of Ukraine and its affairs while subsequently working behind the scenes to strengthen relations with the EU.
The Yanukovych-Putin relationship is 150% a crucial element of the politics framing the backstory behind the revolts, as is the massive history of oppression and tyranny that Ukraine has endured at the feet of Russia. It is no question that anyone who is interested in global affairs and who wants to learn about the Maidan events in 2014 will walk away from the film with a greater understanding of what it means to be a country caught between two significant powers, but nevertheless, they would have benefited even further had more context been provided.
“The movie could have empowered people who saw it to go out and convince everyone that Ukrainians beat incredible odds, showed amazing bravery and resilience, and transformed their own society in the space of a few months,” Guz said. “The movie could have showed that while people are arguing whether the EU is worthwhile because of minor economic quibbles, people in Ukraine laid down their lives for the mere chance to join it. It could have enlightened people in western and central Europe to the crazy shit that threatens them and people like them only a few hours away from where they live.”
Markiyan Matsekh plays the piano for riot police in Kiev, 7 December 2013. (c) Andrew Meakovsky, Oleg Matsekh and Marikiyan Matsekh
As a girl in the middle of the square plays a piano painted the colours of Ukrainian flag and snow continues to fall on the ashes of the Euromaidan, the documentary resides to ending the story on a tidy note. The ending summary does mention Yanukovych’s flight to Russia, the subsequent annexation of the Crimea by Putin and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, but it doesn’t touch over the chaos and bickering that is continues to take place within the new Ukrainian government.
Both documentaries are raw and incredibly well-filmed. While “Winter on Fire” ultimately opts for a slightly cinematic feel with the way it is tidied up at the end, “The Square” leaves things just as raw and un-ended as at the beginning of the film. Both, however, serve as hallmarks of courage and bravery to share with the world how hard people around the world are fighting for their freedom.
As we marched down to K Street and blockaded the traffic, car horns filled the air as members of our group spread out and started to paint the mural, which bore the words “reconstruct, reinvest and resist.”
It was an overcast day as we seated ourselves in the middle of a park near one of the most notorious streets in America. We gathered to eat lunch and say goodbye to our new friends, César and River, who had guided us, all but one from UNC Asheville, to Washington, D.C., to join over a thousand individuals in a mass protest against the most hot-button issues in the country, racial injustice, environmental destruction and anti-immigration legislation.
A few weeks earlier, I was seated on the Quad, enjoying the quaint and cute maple-shaped cookies and cider that UNCA so generously hands out every fall, when a friend from the UNCA Divestment Coalition came and placed a flier in my hand, telling me about the “Our Generation, Our Choice” event taking place Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.
My first thought was, “There is no way I can leave school, not with all the assignments I have to do.” My second thought was, “Hell, yeah.” I had never really been to D.C., unless you count gliding through on a Greyhound bus, and these are all issues that I am passionate about.
It was settled.
We first left for D.C. on Saturday morning, and aside from some mild panic in regards to obtaining rental cars, the trip there was fairly smooth. We discussed everything we loved about the world, hated about the world, talking ‘bout our generation all the while. The energy was good, and it was evident that we were all thoroughly excited and ready to jump into the action.
Rolling into the American capital at night, we first went to an art collective in a warehouse nestled in an industrial, sleepy side of the city. We met César and River, who, alongside the other artists there, were helping to make the signs and the mural that would ultimately be our group’s creation.
We worked for hours in the chilly, neon evening and the warm, comforting art studio, with some of us cutting out cardboard circle stencils, others painting the main banner that would be supported by over 20 hands on the day of the rally, others making the wood posts to hold the signs up, and still others spray-painting the stencils onto small canvases outside.
We were there from 6 to 9 p.m., weary but excited, envisioning how everything we were helping to create would be utilized in the rally.
After this, we departed into the twilight and found the church in which we were staying. Sleeping on the floor alongside other activists from across the country, it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable situation, but I love my sleeping bag, so it was all good.
Some of the group went directly to sleep, while the other, perhaps less sensible portion of the group, myself included, retreated back into the night to roam the streets of D.C.
It was a fantastic night to say the least. We walked up and down various sections of the city, sipping beers and talking about life, engaging in various kinds of debauchery that won’t be mentioned here for various reasons.
However, the inevitable hangover that ensued the following day was nothing short of awful, and as I took off to our day-long civil disobedience training, running to throw up in trash cans at subway stops, I sort of regretted my decision to not be responsible.
The training was a lot of things, to say the least. There were intense moments, in particular when one person confronted the speaker about immigration issues and treatment toward minorities who were protesting, and by the end of the day, we were tired as heck and ready to crash.
The morning of the event, however, we were just ready. Even running off an unstable amount of sleep, we were possessed by a fervent energy to get into action and bring everything we had to the rally. We had been warned numerous times that we could be arrested that day, and while it was frightening, it was a risk that I wanted to take. The issues we were speaking out against, the impending crises that the United States is facing as the 21st century pushes forward, and the well-being of our generation and the generations still living on this earth were something to speak out about, and I wanted to contribute my voice.
As we marched down to K Street and blockaded the traffic, car horns filled the air as members of our group spread out and started to paint the mural, which bore the words “reconstruct, reinvest and resist.” I held the art supply cart, mainly because I had managed to skin my already-skinned knee further by falling that morning, and would have been in too much pain to kneel on the ground and paint.
The snipers inevitably came out on top of the White House and pointed their automatic weapons at us, a bunch of “crazy hippies” promoting a world where people are kind and thoughtful, not ruthlessly given over to the behest and pursuit of the almighty dollar.
After two hours, we retreated back to the park from where we had originally marched . Al Jazeera and Reuters reporters were there, interviewing students about our protest that apparently was national news.
I have at times been skeptical of whether or not myself and a few others in our generation, a few planktons dominated by a sea of piranhas, actually have the chance to make a change in the world.
But as I sat there with my crew, smiling and taking in the soothing autumn air, I knew I wouldn’t have chosen to have spent the morning of November 9, 2015, in any other way. In the words of Regina Spektor, “All this hippie shit’s for the ’60s.” But it’s for the ’10s, too.