Students rally at the March For Our Lives, Washington DC. Photo by Stella Levantesi
Thousands of students, teachers, parents, grandparents and supporters rallied in Washington DC yesterday with an unforgiving message for the lawmakers and the NRA: no more gun violence.
Led by the Parkland student survivors, the March for Our Lives had sister marches in 800 cities around the world.
Parkland high school senior, Emma Gonzalez, the face of this emerging movement, spoke for two minutes and stood in silence for four minutes. She said it took the Parkland shooter a total of six minutes and twenty seconds to kill 17 students.
“Fight for your life before it’s somebody else’s job,” she said as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Students have decided to take matters in their own hands, because up to now no one else has, they said.
“We’re here because no one else is going to speak for us if we don’t,” said 16-year-old Margaret Jeshow. “And if doesn’t work, then it’s going to have to happen again, until it does.”
Many mothers were there in support of their children.
“I’m here for my daughter’s future, because she’s eventually going to be in school,” said Donna Griffin, who came all the way from California. “This next generation, they’re the ones that can really make a difference. This generation that’s coming up is going to be powerful, very powerful.”
For others, change comes with more than rallying. Many of the speakers expressed their desire to be able to vote, even if they still haven’t reached 21 years of age.
“Teens like us should vote,” said Franciel Guillen, 18, who is an activist for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance in the Bronx, New York. “Having mature teens that know what they’re doing, them voting would change things.”
To the chant of “Vote them out,” the marchers were firm in their belief on the failure of the Trump administration and the NRA.
“Silence equals compliance,” said Adrian Gomez, 16. “It’s important that people exercise their right to vote. It’s our country and our future and we the people have the power to control that by voting.”
Like many teens at the march, Gomez and his friend Parker O’Donnell, were wearing a $1.05 price tag. This is the amount of money Marco Rubio took from the NRA, divided by every single student in Florida.
“That’s kind of terrifying, like I’m just a dollar and five cents to someone,” said O’Donnell. “Human life is worth more than any sum of money.”
Students said The March for Our Lives is just the start.
“This march is not the climax, it’s only the beginning,” said Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting. ”If you think today is good, just wait till tomorrow.”
A clear signal that a page has turned to a new generation was when Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, took the stage to share her dream.
“I have a dream that enough is enough,” said King as the crowd roared. “This should be a gun-free world. Period.”
Editing by Kristen Torres and Stella Levantesi
Reporting by Bowen Li, Justin Ratcherford, Monay Robinson Justin Hicks, Amy Zahn, Lisa John Rogers, Polina Meshkova, Keziah Tutu, Lauren Garry and Farnoush Amiri.
Daniela Valdes Bennett and Ana Garcia, visiting students through the NYU Hurricane Maria Assistance Program, in Bobst Library at NYU. Photo by Claire Tighe
When Puerto Rican college students Ana Garcia and Daniela Valdes Bennett applied to transfer to NYU for their spring semester after surviving two hurricanes, they kept it a secret from each other. The friends broke the news through emojis — an airplane, followed by another airplane and an American flag.
“I texted her saying, ‘Hey, I have news,’” said Bennett. “Ana said, ‘I have news too.’ And we freaked out.”
Garcia and Bennett are two of the 57 students admitted to NYU for the Spring 2018 semester through the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program. Through the program, NYU covers full tuition, a meal plan, housing and health insurance for students whose educations were interrupted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall.
“There were over 400 applications and several hundred more that were not completed,” said Josh Taylor, Associate Vice Chancellor of Global Programs at NYU. “We prioritized students with challenging living situations, no internet and who attended campuses with no electricity.”
Other major universities, including Tulane, Cornell and Brown, are offering similar programs this spring.
Bennett and Garcia decided to transfer after barely managing one semester on the recovering island. Throughout the fall semester, closed classrooms, destroyed equipment and loss of power made studying nearly impossible.
Garcia’s school was closed for weeks due to the storms.
“Water came through the roof and ruined all the computers, everything,” Garcia said. “When the school opened again, we were taking classes in different places. It was a mess. When classes resumed, the power wasn’t guaranteed.”
Today, 131 days after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans on the island continue to struggle with the lack of reliable power. According to status.pr, 69% of the island has electricity, leaving 450,000 people currently without power. Garcia’s family completely lost power for four months. For Bennett’s, it was three and a half months, but they still have intermittent outages.
“Just this morning my family lost power again,” said Bennett. “It’s coming and going. Talking to them on the phone makes me kind of sad to know that they are still there. My twin brother is still studying in Puerto Rico and he keeps calling me saying, “‘I’m so jealous of you.’ I know it’s hard for them.”
During the fall semester, both students did homework using flashlights and candles. To do research, they drained their cell phone batteries and used what little data they had. When it was time to recharge, they took their laptops and phones to local cafes and waited along with dozens of other people who shared surge protectors and outlets.
“There were so many lines,” said Garcia. “For everything.”
At the cafes, the young women submitted their applications to NYU, which felt like a much-needed relief from the stress in the aftermath of the storms.
“The situation is just so overwhelming,” said Garcia. “You can’t think of anything but getting your power back and being able to shower with hot water.”
For Garcia, the chance to attend NYU for the spring seemed like a second chance to buckle down after a semester lost to the hurricanes.
“I found out that I had gotten into the program while I was at the bakery charging my phone and my laptop,” said Garcia. “And then I started crying and the people at the bakery were like, ‘Are you okay?’ And I was like, ‘Yea, I’m just really excited. This is good news.”
On campus at NYU, the transfer students feel embraced by their peers, despite the differences in their experiences.
“As soon as I told my roommates I was from Puerto Rico, they asked me about the hurricane,” said Bennett. “They sat around the table and I told them all of my stories and they were like, ‘Oh my god, wow.’
But the visiting students feel like their peers aren’t talking about Puerto Rico as much as they should be.
“I do feel like a lot of people have forgotten about it,” said Bennett. “People think it’s over and there has been so much progress, so I don’t want to complain. But it’s not over yet.”
Protestors march 28 blocks from Union Square to Bryant Park on January 30 to protest Trump’s ban on immigration. Photo by Brelaun Douglas
Braced against the cold of a late January night, their breath mixing with the icy air with every chant, protestors gathered at Union Square in Manhattan to rally against President Trump’s recent ban on immigrants from several countries.
Decked in scarves, gloves and with signs that read “ We are Earthlings” and “ Students in Solidarity,” they chanted “No ban. No registry. F*ck White supremacy,” and let it be known that they wouldn’t stand for the president’s executive order.
Taking a break from crying out “One solution: revolution” a student was called forward to tell her own personal story.
“When I came in on the train on the 26th, it was the day before the ban,” said the Iranian born student living in Canada who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “I was searched because they thought that I was coming and going to the U.S. too many times. They searched everything: they searched my notebooks, my writings, my phone. The Farsi and the Hebrew in my stuff alarmed them, I could tell,” said the student who is getting her PhD in politics at the New School.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely and suspending refuge admissions for 120 days.
The order quickly prompted nation-wide protests as thousand flocked to airports over the weekend to protest the ban and demand that detained refugees be let free.
The PhD student went on to tell a sea of shocked faces that she was told she was only allowed to stay in the U.S. until February 3.
“The officer said that he will be on the train to make sure that I am on it and if not he will send Trump’s people after me,” she said. “Now I have to go back and I don’t know if I can return. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my PhD, and more importantly to me, I don’t now if I’m going to ever see the people or the city that I love so much again. It’s a very traumatic experience because I already went through that as a child and you work so hard to heal those wounds. You just don’t imagine this happening again in what you call a liberal democracy.”
Many of the protestors had amassed in the square following a rally at the New School. Among them was Mariel Gauger, a second year student at the New School with an undeclared major.
“I’m here to share solidarity with all the immigrant students at the New School who might be put in danger by Trump’s new policies,” she said. “I think Trump is only the tip of the iceberg with this kind of stuff.”
While in the square, protestors were joined by others who wanted to show their support, including Anthony Cartagine, a third year economic student at Baruch College.
“I’m out here to protest against Trump, and to protest the ban especially, and to support the people that are threatened by Trump,” he said. “When I first heard about it, it was very upsetting. It felt a bit shocking even though it’s what he said he was going to do.”
For many, what they wanted to result from the rallies and the protests was clear.
“With all the rallies and the protest I would like to see people mobilizing beyond just the rallies,” said Cartagine as he marched 28 blocks with the group to Bryant Park to meet up with more students from Fordham University and Columbia. “ They help inspire other forms of action and I think that probably the best thing to do is [for] people to just continue to act beyond the protest and take action whenever they can.”
But for the PhD student, it was more difficult to articulate her exact wants.
“Where I hope this goes, I have no idea,” she said. “Open borders and less wars. My hopes are too much to say right now”
Imagine being an LGBT student on an American college campus in 1969, in fear to come out because of gay bashing, police brutality, and even murder.
“This is a liberation, a really different moment in lesbian and gay political possibilities,” said Ann Pellegrini, the author of “Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance”. “It went from ‘don’t arrest us for wearing women’s clothing’ or ‘don’t arrest us for having sex with a person of the same sex’ to ‘we want the law to regulate us in our intimate relationships’.”
Pellegrini said she is confident that LGBT students are in a more tolerant environment than they would have been years ago. She attests this tolerance to the legalization of same sex marriage.
“It’s really different to have marriage be the thing,” said Pellegrini. “This was not what the people were rioting about at Stonewall, they just wanted the police off their backs.”
The Stonewall riots, which were demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid in 1969 in Greenwich Village, are far from what LGBT students face today in New York City.
Since 2004, when Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same sex marriage, there have been 71,165 same sex marriages according to the Pew Research Center. In correlation, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 75 percent of LGBT youth say that most of their peers do not have a problem with their identity as LGBT.
This percentage is illustrative of how far the LGBT community has come since the 1960’s.
But according to a New York University graduate of 2009 from Deal, NJ, who would not give his name because of fear of discrimination, there is still a lot of work that has to be done. He said gay students were mocked.
“I thought that out of anywhere in the world to go to school, NYU would be the easiest to come out because there was a culture of acceptance in the village and New York City as a whole,” he said. “There were gay closeted people at NYU because they were afraid to come out and I know this because I was one of them.”
One of the ways that New York University tackles the difficulties that LGBT students are confronted with is by creating a safe environment at the LGBTQ center.
“We talk a lot about microaggressions and we have a lot of programming that takes on these kinds of conversations,” said Leah Miller, a first-year student at NYU and volunteer for Ally Week, a national youth-led effort that empowers students to stand up against anti-LGBT bullying.
She defined microaggression as comments or jokes that don’t necessarily have a mean or malicious intent at all, but the impact that they have perpetuates sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
“For example with LGBTQ, if someone were to say ‘oh do you have a boyfriend’ if you were a woman or ‘when are you going to get married and have kids’ assuming things about peoples lives based on norms,” she said.
Another way that New York University works to stop intolerance against LGBT students is through Bystander Intervention which teaches non – LGBT students who are present during emergency situations how to successfully intervene and stop any acts of violent discrimination.
“Our training notes hate speech and discrimination among a number of other examples of scenarios where there may be opportunities to intervene to help others,” said Caroline Wallace, Director of Health Promotion at NYU. “The purpose of the training is to let NYU community members know they can play a role in mitigating or avoiding negative outcomes around a number of topics.”
But New York University doesn’t only want to train their students to fight against anti-LGBT bullying. They also want to educate them and find out where these negative and positive messages are coming from.
Claire Mahany and Piper McCain, outspoken peer educators for the LGBT Center and volunteers for Ally Week, asked their students during a Safe Zone class, a training program a the LGBTQ center, how they internalize the messages they see in their daily lives while on campus.
“I would say that something that stood out for me was meeting someone that was out and proud and not apologetic for who they were,” said Tom, a participant in Safe Zone that would only go by his first name in fear of intolerant backlash. “I think having that type of role model makes a difference.”
Markus Zakaria, 22, outside his apartment on campus at NYU during the blizzard. Photo credit: Christina Dun
It’s the first day back to school and already there’s a snow day.
For many students living in New York City for the first time, alerts of “Snowmageddon 2015” or #NYCBlizzard is something new to experience.
“This is nothing like Dubai,” said Markus Zakaria, a music technology grad student at NYU who lives on campus. He has gone from growing up in Dubai to pursuing his undergraduate degree in Florida, where he’s no stranger to the heat. Here in NYC however, it’s a little different this time of year.
“So far I’m enjoying it. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s not too cold just yet, but I hear it’s going to get worse.”
Two to three feet of snow is expected to fall by Tuesday night but he’s not getting too worried.
While it seems like the rest of New York is in a state of panic, Zakaria is looking on the bright side.
“Coming from a hot place to a cold place, I actually prefer this,” he said. “You can always put more clothes on, but there’s only so much you can remove when it’s too hot.”
It’s a good thing he likes to wear layers, as New Yorkers must bundle up in those heavy jackets and scarves this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon, warning people to stay safe at home. The MTA also announced that all bus, commuter rail and subway services would be suspended at 11 p.m. Monday night.
NYU students received multiple emails, texts and notifications of closures and cancelled classes and Zakaria is excited to get to fully experience the snow in the city.
While New York residents are preparing for the storm by stocking up on food, water and supplies, Zakaria feels like he’s ready. He said he’s stocked up and has snow boots at hand, but since he hasn’t seen it that bad yet, he isn’t too sure what to expect.
Lines at grocery stores have been incredibly long, as seen throughout social media, and shelves are emptying, all to get ready for the blizzard that’s been named Juno.
For Zakaria, he’s seeing more good than bad so far and he’s just living in the moment.
“I can’t see how it would be horrible, but I guess we’ll see how this day goes,” he said. “I’m looking forward to building snowmen and snow angels though.”
Earlier this month, students laid on the floor of the NYU Bookstore with their eyes shut and fliers placed on their chests that read, “Deathtraps never stop exploiting.”
The students are members of NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and were protesting the University’s relationship with sweatshop labor in Bangladesh through a “die-in”. The JanSport backpacks sold in the cavernous East Village bookstore, are made in sweatshops, protestors said. VF Corporation, an American apparel company that makes the bags, refuses to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which aims to make garment factories safe workplaces through the implementation of more building inspections.
“They are one of the largest producers if not the largest producers in Bangladesh and it’s really important that they sign on to the Accord because it will determine whether or not the majority of the factories are covered”, said Robert Ascherman, an organizer with SLAM.
SLAM, which is a part of the national organization, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), is pushing the University’s administration to end its contract with VF. The students staged the “die in” to highlight the many workers killed and injured in garment factory accidents in Bangladesh in the past year.
SLAM members also delivered a letter in person to NYU’s officials in February, requesting them to break their ties with VF.
“Our real power comes not from individual actions but by working together and putting pressure on the university,” said Ascherman. “Because we pay (the university), it should be responsive to students and listen to us, but that’s not actually how it occurs here.”
After doing some research on the matter, the University will be responding to SLAM’s letter this month, according to John Beckman, Vice President of Public Affairs at NYU.
In an e-mail, Beckman said that JanSport is an NYU licensee meaning that it is authorized to produce NYU apparel. JanSport was purchased by the VF Corporation in 1986. Despite that, JanSport is the sole holder of the license to produce NYU apparel.
“JanSport, like all the VF companies, operates independently and determines where to manufacture JanSport goods”, Beckman said. “JanSport has never produced apparel in Bangladesh.”
He also said that VF owns another brand called VF Imageware, which does produce in Bangladesh. However, NYU does not have a contract with VF Imagewear, and that no VF brand has ever produced NYU apparel or products in Bangladesh.
There have been numerous garment factory disasters in Bangladesh, including fires and building collapses. More than 100 workers were killed in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in November of 2012 as reported by Human Rights Watch.
In April of 2013, over 1,000 workers lost their lives when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Dhakka, the country’s capital. Rana Plaza was home to many Western retailers’ factories.
Ismail Ferdous is a documentary photographer, who is based in Dhakka, but also works in New York City. He was at the scene of the disaster and was able to capture the pain and devastation of both the victims and their families in his photographs.
“An eight-story building became like a sandwhich,” Ferdous said, demonstrating by clamping both his hands close together. “I never seen so many dead bodies in my life-like 1,200 people and the faces of the victims’ families broke my heart all the time,” he said.
SLAM wants to raise awareness about the lack of safety standards in many Bangladeshi garment factories so accidents like Rana Plaza don’t happen again.
Along with some other Western apparel companies, VF has joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. In a statement of purpose that was released in July of 2013, leaders of the Alliance said they plan to launch their own Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative.
But Ascherman said that the Alliance is “illegitimate, not legally-binding and does not provide enough funds” to ensure building repairs and inspections as the Accord does.
Besides VF, GAP, Wal-Mart, JCPenney, and the Children’s Place are some of the other American companies that haven’t signed the Accord. According to a report by the International Labor Rights Forum, GAP, Wal-Mart, and the Children’s Place have also refused to compensate the victims of the factory disasters they’re involved with.
“They’re big companies,” said Ferdous. “They can afford to compensate the (victims’) families, because the families are poor. Some of the kids lost both their parents.”
As the one-year anniversary of the deadly Rana Plaza incident draws near, SLAM has experienced some success with their “End Deathtraps” campaign and getting their message out. “I think there’s been a significant amount of progress on this campaign,” said Ascherman.
He also said that recently several companies including Addidas and Fruit of the Loom have signed the Accord through the pressure of USAS groups at various universities across the country. “We’ve seen about six or seven groups sign on and so those factories will definitely start immediately seeing improvements.”
The safety and rights of Bangladeshi garment workers might not seem like an issue concerning Americans, but Ascherman begs to differ.
“Americans like anyone else are moral human beings and should be outraged about what’s going on and also should realize that as the major consumers of the products coming out of Bangladesh, we have a lot of power,” he said.