Hashtag Activism: The KONY2012 Phenomenon

Sabah Rahman & Amy Saunders

In a world that chronically suffers from historical amnesia and short attention spans, KONY2012 is no doubt a very effective method of consciousness raising. But as soon as the campaign went viral on the internet (over 50 million views in just its second day), some crucial criticisms about the campaign began to emerge.

The campaign KONY2012, led by Invisible Children, goes something like this. Use the internet to make Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), both rightly accused of war crimes in Uganda and recently other countries such as Eastern Africa, famous! The hope is to connect a broader global audience to the “invisibility” of both Joseph Kony and the LRA in the abducting and recruiting of child soldiers in Central Africa.

In many ways, this campaign reflects Western sentiments of the War on Terror. It speaks the language we are all too familiar with: the permeation of transnational terrorism onto seemingly borderless terrains coupled with an increased importance of surveillance and capture; the policing of national borders; and identifying terrorists who defy physical and immaterial guard posts. All of these have a crucial purpose within questions of broader existence and maintenance of US hegemony.

The Bush administration declared Uganda an ally in the War on Terror in 2003 and announced an accompanying $100 million USD “aid package” for Uganda including selected East African countries to heighten efforts in tracking insurgents. As a result, President Yoweri Museveni, (who has maintained his presidency in Uganda since 1986 and has been accused of massive corruption and human rights violations within his country) took his military offensive against the LRA to Southern Sudan in Operation Iron Fist in Mar. 2002. The offensive was considered a failure, but since then the international community has increasingly linked development aid to Uganda with Museveni’s personal political agenda in Northern Uganda and the militarization of the national army. The political and military conflicts in Uganda are historically drawn and incredibly complex, and the US is intricately linked to the Museveni government based on its own political and military interests in the region.

While the US relies on Uganda for a great deal of its arms trade in Northern Africa, and there have been recent discoveries of rich oil and mineral reserves on the outskirts of the country of Uganda, Joseph Kony and the LRA have moved on to neighbouring countries, causing continued destruction in their wake. You will not find any of this information in the newly famed KONY2012 campaign that has recently gone viral.

Throughout the two-decade conflict within Uganda, Ugandan parliament has worked tirelessly to find Kony, end his wave of destruction, and pick up the pieces left in his trails. But you will not find this in the hashtag KONY2012 campaign. Instead, you will find an old rhetoric, knee-deep in racial epithets, in which one white man, cheered on by his blonde-haired, blue-eyed son of the suburbs, promises to put an end to Kony and his army – if he doesn’t have the power do it, who does?

Utilizing simplistic message campaigns and the wonderful world of social media, Invisible Children, the NGO that has started the KONY2012 campaign, has overly simplified years of conflict in Northern Africa. What has resulted has been mass-appeal to what I would call “Facebook activism.” One click and lives have been saved; one post and suffering children are joyful; one tweet and a warlord’s army is dismantled.

Lauren Berlant, queer theorist and author of The Queen of America Goes to Washington, would prescribe these attitudes as dead citizenship: the idea that through consumption and exchange of capital, we are contributing to the betterment of the life of our nation, nationhood, and others. No need to question or be critical; through the buying of a KONY2012 bracelet, you are saving African children – you are a hero. This campaign also follows rhetoric of the West as advanced, free, and most of all the exceptional humanitarians the world needs.

The campaign valorizes the 21st century obsession of the gaze, and builds on a culture of celebrityhood that sensationalizes atrocity in similar ways that terrorism have captured the limelight. The UK-based newspaper the Guardian launched the Guantanamo Prison files in 2011 to showcase the 779 detainees currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. The website heading reads as follows: “Documents leaked to the Guardian give details of the capture and transfer to Guantánamo of 779 people, some of them 9/11 masterminds, many of them Afghan farmers. Find out who’s who, how they were captured, and why, according to the files, they ended up in Cuba.” It is hard to conceive of the usefulness of some of the information that is provided on the inmates unless here too is another attempt to profile graphically the invisibility of terrorism and those who commit terrorist acts.

While it is undoubtedly an atrocity what Joseph Kony and his army, and many like them have done, it is imperative that we critically investigate how we are implicated in these types of situations. How we are implicated in not only their existence, but their prolonged proliferation and, as such, begin to think of new ways to organize and mobilize solidarity, across-borders, and cross-culturally around such an important issues, and many others like it.

During one favourable online conversation vis-a-vis #kony2012, a good friend suggested: “why not stop this kind of violence at its roots: let’s forgive debts owed to Western countries by African governments; balance trade agreements to be a little more fair; and compensate for all that murder, slavery, colonialism, and resource theft.” What many new Facebook activists, and youth of the West (whom the campaign seems to target) have forgotten is the context of the conflict in Uganda and the history of the country in question. Speaking upon acts of solidarity, Chandra Mohanty, author of Feminism Without Borders, would simply say: history and context matter.

The Ethics of “Ethical Oil”

Paul Blackburn

We can all agree that exploiting human suffering for commercial gain is unethical and immoral. Yet, this is exactly what the Canadian oil industry’s ‘ethical oil’ argument does.

The ‘ethical oil’ argument, simply put, is that since Canada is not as oppressive a country as Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or Venezuela, that therefore it is ethically and morally superior to consume oil from Canada. At first, this claim may seem to make sense, but rather than demonstrate that the oil industry and its political supporters are compassionate, ethical and moral, it actually proves the opposite.

The “ethical oil” argument is immoral and unethical for three reasons. First, it exploits human suffering in developing countries merely to advance oil industry commercial interests. Second, by suggesting that consumption of tar sands oil will improve the lives of oppressed people when it will not, it manipulates the decent desire of Americans north and south of the border to relieve suffering and protect the environment. Third, it trades on Canada’s humane democracy to sell its product when it is the Canadian people – not the oil industry – that are responsible and deserve credit for this democracy.

Global demand for oil is so great that faster extraction of Canadian oil will not reduce demand for oil from oppressive countries. If the U.S. buys less oil from the Middle East, then India and China will step in and keep demand for Middle Eastern oil high, and business in the Middle East will continue as usual. The industry knows this. Therefore, buying Canadian tar sands oil cannot and will not create economic pressure on oil dictatorships to increase political freedom, reduce human oppression or protect the environment.

Unlike prior efforts to use consumer pressure to force change in oppressive regimes, the oil industry has not suggested that buying tar sands oil will support a boycott of oil from oppressive countries, allow the oil industry to cut commercial ties with oppressive regimes, result in economic aid for uprisings to overthrow dictatorships, or otherwise protect people in oil dictatorships. Instead, the oil industry seeks to hide the truth: that it has continued and will continue to work hand-in-glove with these same oppressive regimes.

Thus, the “ethical oil” argument showcases human suffering in developing countries and implies that buying oil from Canada will relieve this suffering, when in fact purchasing oil from Canada will not improve the lives of anybody in an oil dictatorship. The Canadian oil industry is merely exploiting human suffering solely for the purpose of advancing its own commercial and political interests. This exploitation is immoral.

Moreover, the industry is manipulating the decent heartfelt desire of good people who want to relieve the pain of other human beings and protect our global environment. What is manipulative is that the oil industry tells consumers that supporting Tar Sands oil will somehow help relieve human suffering and prevent environmental destruction when it will not. It encourages U.S. consumers to feel morally superior when in fact they make no moral choices.
Consumers do not know and have no choice about where the oil they put in their cars comes from. Gas station pumps are not labeled by country of origin or the morality of these countries. Instead, the oil we consume comes from a variety of countries, primarily depending on the cost of transportation, oil company commercial decisions and geopolitical factors.

Oil companies choose where the oil that we buy at the pump comes from and this choice is based on market factors, not ethics. In particular, the reason that the U.S. consumes oil from Canada is because of geographic proximity – not morals or ethics. It is cheaper for Canadians to ship oil to the U.S. than to other countries and Canada’s overseas export options are very limited. Since we consumers have no choice about the source of our oil or the reasons for buying this oil, it is not logically possible for us to take moral credit for buying oil from Canada or anywhere else. The “ethical oil” argument implies otherwise and therefore is misleading and manipulative.

Finally, it is important to look more deeply into why Canadian oil is claimed to be “ethical.” The basis for this claim is that Canada is a humane democracy whose laws and culture provide greater protection for human rights and the environment, such that the oil industry operates more ethically in Canada than it does in other countries. However, Canada is the way it is because of the past and current efforts of the Canadian people, not because oil sales made Canada this way.

Since oil is not responsible for Canada’s more “ethical” culture, buying oil from Canada is not what will sustain this culture. Oil or no oil, it is the will and democratic effort of Canadians that have made and will make Canada more ethical. If oil made countries ethical then we should expect that oil-exporting countries would be more ethical than other countries, but the opposite is more often the case. If anything, the oil boom in Canada threatens Canadian democracy because oil industry money and power profoundly corrupt democratic governments in part by saturating the wallets of politicians. Trading on Canada’s ethical heritage to sell a product is a way of taking credit for moral and ethical choices that the oil industry did not make.

The truth about the “ethical oil” PR campaign is that the industry is using human suffering and environmental destruction in other countries to justify the oppression of indigenous people in Canada, the destruction of enormous areas of virgin Canadian forest, the pollution of some of the purist water in the world, and the emission of disastrous amounts of air pollution into our global skies.

Exploiting human pain for commercial gain is immoral. Manipulating the good intentions of honest people for commercial gain is unethical. Trading on the humanity of a democracy bought with the conviction, sweat and blood of its people to sell a product is profoundly disrespectful of the generations of everyday people that have kept Canada free and humane.

The “ethical oil” argument is manipulative, dishonest, base and vile. The falsely pious who smugly trumpet it, including Prime Minister Harper, Governor Schweitzer of Montana, and a choir of other politicians and oil industry executives and PR flacks should stop their hypocritical crowing and reflect on the lack of ethics in “ethical oil.”

Lockdown: The Coming War on General-Purpose Computing

Cory Doctorow

The following article based on a keynote speech to the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin, December 2011, and has been shortened for our purposes at YU Free Press. The full-length version can be found at http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/lockdown.html.

General-purpose computers are astounding. They are so astounding that our society still struggles to come to grips with them, what they are for, how to accommodate them, and how to cope with them. This brings us back to something you might be sick of reading about: copyright. The shape of the copyright wars clues us into an upcoming fight over the destiny of the general-purpose computer itself. In the beginning, we had packaged software and we had Sneakernet. We had floppy disks in Ziplock bags sold like candy bars and magazines. They were eminently susceptible to duplication, were duplicated quickly, and widely, and this was to the great chagrin of people who made and sold software.

Enter Digital Rights Management in its most primitive forms. They introduced physical indicia, which the software checked for — deliberate damage, dongles, hidden sectors — and challenge-response protocols that required possession of large, unwieldy manuals that were difficult to copy. These failed for two reasons. First, they were commercially unpopular, because they reduced the usefulness of the software to the legitimate purchasers. Honest buyers resented the non-functionality of their backups, they hated the loss of scarce ports to the authentication dongles, and they chafed at the inconvenience of having to lug around large manuals when they wanted to run their software. Second, these did not stop pirates, who found it trivial to patch the software and bypass authentication. People who took the software without paying for it were untouched.

Typically, the way this happened is a programmer (in possession of technology and expertise of equivalent sophistication to the software vendor itself), would reverse-engineer the software and circulate cracked versions. While this sounds highly specialized, it really wasn’t. Figuring out what recalcitrant programs were doing and routing around media defects were core skills for computer programmers, especially in the era of fragile floppy disks and the rough-and-ready early days of software development. Anti-copying strategies only became more fraught as networks spread; once we had bulletin boards, online services, USENET newsgroups and mailing lists, the expertise of people who figured out how to defeat these authentication systems could be packaged up in software as little crack files. As network capacity increased, the cracked disk images or executables themselves could be spread on their own.

By 1996, it became clear to everyone in the halls of power that there was something important about to happen. We were about to have an information economy. They assumed it meant an economy where we bought and sold information. Information technology improves efficiency, so imagine the markets that an information economy would have! You could buy a book for a day, you could sell the rights to watch a movie for a Euro  sell it for one price in one country, at another price in another, and so on. The fantasies of those days were like a boring science fiction adaptation of the Old Testament Book of Numbers, a tedious enumeration of every permutation of things people do with information — and what might be charged for each.

Unfortunately for them, none of this would be possible unless they could control how people use their computers and the files we transfer to them. After all, it was easy to talk about selling someone a tune to download to their MP3 player, but not so easy to talk about the right to move music from the player to another device. How could you stop that once you had given them the file? In order to do so, you needed to figure out how to stop computers from running certain programs and inspecting certain files and processes. For example, you could encrypt the file, and then require the user to run a program that only unlocked the file under certain circumstances.

But, as they say on the Internet, now you have two problems.

You must now also stop the user from saving the file while it’s unencrypted — which must happen eventually — and you must stop the user from figuring out where the unlocking program stores its keys, enabling them to permanently decrypt the media and ditch the player app entirely.

Now you have three problems: you must stop the users who figure out how to decrypt from sharing it with other users. Now you have four problems, because you must stop the users who figure out how to extract secrets from unlocking programs and tell other users how to do it too. And now you have five problems, because you must stop users who figure out how to extract these secrets from telling other users what the secrets were!

That’s a lot of problems. But by 1996, we had a solution. We had the ‘WIPO Copyright Treaty,’ passed by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization. This created laws that made it illegal to extract secrets from unlocking programs, and extracting media (such as songs and movies) from the unlocking programs while they were running. It created laws that made it illegal to tell people how to extract secrets from unlocking programs, and hosting copyrighted works or the secrets. It also established a handy streamlined process that let you remove stuff from the Internet without having to interact with lawyers, and judges. And with that, illegal copying ended forever; the information economy blossomed into a beautiful flower that brought prosperity to the whole wide world. As they say on the aircraft carriers, ‘Mission Accomplished.’

That’s not how the story ends, of course, because pretty much anyone who understood computers and networks understood that these laws would create more problems than they could possibly solve. In short, they made unrealistic demands on reality and reality did not oblige them. Copying only got easier following the passage of these laws — copying will only ever get easier. Right now is as hard as copying will get.

It is tempting to conclude that the problem is that lawmakers are either clueless or evil, or possibly evilly clueless. This is not a very satisfying place to go, because it is fundamentally a counsel of despair; it suggests that our problems cannot be solved for so long as stupidity and evilness are present in the halls of power. But I have another theory about what’s happened.

It is not that regulators do not understand information technology, because it should be possible to be a non-expert and still make a good law. MPs and Congressmen and so on are elected to represent districts and people, not disciplines and issues. We do not have a Member of Parliament for biochemistry, and we do not have a Senator from the great state of urban planning. Yet those people, who are experts in policy and politics, not technical disciplines, still manage to pass good rules that make sense. That is because government relies on heuristics: rules of thumb about how to balance expert input from different sides of an issue. Unfortunately, information technology confounds these heuristics — it kicks the crap out of them —in one important way.

The important tests of whether or not a regulation is fit for a purpose are first whether it will work, and second whether or not it will, in the course of doing its work, have effects on everything else. If I wanted Congress, Parliament, or the E.U. to regulate a wheel, it is unlikely I would succeed. If I turned up, pointed out that bank robbers always make their escape on wheeled vehicles, and asked, “Can’t we do something about this?” the answer would be “No.” We do not know how to make a wheel that is still generally useful for legitimate wheel applications, but useless to criminals. We can see that the general benefits of wheels are so profound that it would be foolish to risk changing them in an errand to stop bank robberies. Even if there were an epidemic of bank robberies — and society was on the verge of collapse thanks to bank robberies — no one would think that wheels were the right place to start solving our problems.

However, if I were to show up in that same body to say that I had absolute proof that hands-free phones were making cars dangerous, and I requested a law prohibiting hands-free phones in cars, the regulator might say “Yeah, I’d take your point, we’d do that.” We might disagree about whether or not this is a good idea, or whether or not my evidence made sense, but very few of us would say that once you take the hands-free phones out of the car, they stop being cars. We understand that cars remain cars even if we remove features from them.

This rule of thumb serves regulators well, by and large, but it is rendered null and void by the general-purpose computer and the general-purpose network — the PC and the Internet. If you think of computer software as a feature, a computer with spreadsheets running on it has a spreadsheet feature, and one that is running World of Warcraft has an MMORPG feature. The heuristic would lead you to think that a computer unable to run spreadsheets or games would be no more of an attack on computing than a ban on car-phones would be an attack on cars.

And, if you think of protocols and websites as features of the network saying, “fix the Internet so that it doesn’t run BitTorrent,” or “fix the Internet so that thepiratebay.org no longer resolves,” sounds a lot like “change the sound of busy signals,” or “take that pizzeria on the corner off the phone network” and not at all like an attack on the fundamental principles of internetworking.

The rule of thumb works for cars, for houses, and for every other substantial area of technological regulation. Not realizing that it fails for the Internet does not make you evil, and it does not make you an ignoramus. It makes you part of the vast majority of the world, for whom ideas like Turing completeness and end-to-end are meaningless.

So, our regulators go off, they blithely pass these laws, and they become part of the reality of our technological world. There are, suddenly, numbers that we are not allowed to write down on the Internet, programs we are not allowed to publish, and all it takes to make legitimate material disappear from the Internet is the mere accusation of copyright infringement. It fails to attain the goal of the regulation, because it does not stop people from violating copyright. It bears a kind of superficial resemblance to copyright enforcement — it satisfies the security syllogism: “something must be done, I am doing something, something has been done.” As a result, any failures that arise can be blamed on the idea that the regulation does not go far enough, rather than the idea that it was flawed from the outset.

Today we have marketing departments that say things such as “we don’t need computers, we need appliances. Make me a computer that does not run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it does not run programs that I have not authorized that might undermine our profits.”

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea: a program that does one specialized task. After all, we can put an electric motor in a blender, we can install a motor in a dishwasher, and we do not worry if it is still possible to run a dishwashing program in a blender. What is problematic, is that we do not know how to build a general-purpose computer that is capable of running any program except for some program that we do not like, is prohibited by law, or which loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware: a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user’s knowledge, or over the objection of the computer’s owner. Digital rights management always converges on malware.

In one famous incident — a gift to people who share this hypothesis — Sony loaded covert rootkit installers on 6 million audio CDs, which secretly executed programs that watched for attempts to read the sound files on CDs and terminated them. It also hid the rootkit’s existence by causing the computer operating system’s kernel to lie about which processes were running, and which files were present on the drive. That’s not the only example. Nintendo’s 3DS opportunistically updates its firmware, and does an integrity check to make sure that you have not altered the old firmware in any way. If it detects signs of tampering, it turns itself into a brick.

Human rights activists have raised alarms over U-EFI, the new PC bootloader, which restricts your computer so it only runs “signed” operating systems, noting that repressive governments will likely withhold signatures from operating systems unless they allow for covert surveillance operations. On the network side, attempts to make a network that cannot be used for copyright infringement always converge with the surveillance measures that we know from repressive governments. Consider SOPA, the U.S. ‘Stop Online Piracy Act,’ which bans innocuous tools such as DNSSec — a security suite that authenticates domain name information because, they might be used to defeat DNS blocking measures. It blocks Tor, an online anonymity tool sponsored by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and used by dissidents in oppressive regimes, because it can be used to circumvent IP blocking measures.

Canada’s Parliament did not vote on its copyright bills because, of all the things that Canada needs to do, fixing copyright ranks well below health emergencies on First Nations reservations, exploiting the oil patch in Alberta, interceding in sectarian resentments among French- and English-speakers, solving resources crises in the nation’s fisheries, and a thousand other issues. The triviality of copyright tells you that when other sectors of the economy start to evince concerns about the Internet and the PC, copyright will be revealed for a minor skirmish — not a war.

Why might other sectors come to nurse grudges against computers in the way the entertainment business already has? The world we live in today is made of computers. We do not have cars anymore; we have computers we ride in. A radio is no longer a crystal: it’s a general-purpose computer, running software.

Consider radio. Radio regulation until today was based on the idea that the properties of a radio are fixed at the time of manufacture, and cannot be easily altered. You cannot flip a switch on your baby monitor and interfere with other signals. But powerful software-defined radios (SDRs) can change from baby monitor to emergency services dispatcher or air traffic controller, just by loading and executing different software. This is why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered what would happen when we put SDRs in the field, and asked for comment on whether it should mandate that all software-defined radios should be embedded in “trusted computing” machines. Ultimately, the question is whether every PC should be locked, so that central authorities could strictly regulate their programs.

Even this is a shadow of what is to come. After all, this was the year in which we saw the debut of open source shape files for converting AR-15 rifles to fully-automatic. This was the year of crowd-funded open-sourced hardware for genetic sequencing. It does not take a science fiction writer to understand why regulators might be nervous about the user-modifiable firmware on self-driving cars, or limiting interoperability for aviation controllers, or the kind of thing you could do with bio-scale assemblers and sequencers.

Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or hysterical fears, they are, nevertheless, the political currency of lobbies and interest groups far more influential than Hollywood and big content. Every one of them will arrive at the same place: “Can’t you just make us a general-purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can’t you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?”

There will be programs that run on general-purpose computers, and peripherals, that will freak even me out. So I can believe that people who advocate for limiting general-purpose computers will find a receptive audience. But just as we saw with the copyright wars, banning certain instructions, protocols or messages will be wholly ineffective as a means of prevention and remedy. All attempts at controlling PCs will converge on rootkits, and all attempts at controlling the Internet will converge on surveillance and censorship. This stuff matters because we have spent the last decade sending our best players out to fight what we thought was the final boss at the end of the game, but it turns out it has just been an end-level guardian. The stakes are only going to get higher.

We haven’t lost yet, but we have to win the copyright war first if we want to keep the Internet and the PC free and open. Freedom in the future will require us to have the capacity to monitor our devices and set meaningful policies for them; to examine and terminate the software processes that run on them; and to maintain them as honest servants to our will, not as traitors and spies working for criminals, thugs, and control freaks.

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger  the co-editor of Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and the author of Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novels like For the Win and the bestselling Little Brother. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London. Cory Doctorow is a proud York University dropout.

Earth Rises

Matthew Cimone

On December 24th, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts captured an image that came to be known as “Earthrise.” It would later be featured in Time Magazine’s “100 Photographs that Changed the World” alongside images such as Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong guerrilla, the rising mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, and the shootings at Kent State. Earth-rise depicts just as its name suggests: rather than the Sun cresting over the horizon of the Earth, the image is of the Earth cresting over the horizon of the Moon. The Apollo 8 mission’s three astronauts were the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit and be captured by the gravitational field of the Moon. What they brought back changed humanity forever.

Earthrise has become one of the most reproduced images in the history of humankind (and is being air-brushed onto a guitar of mine, as we speak). The photo is credited as a flagship symbol of modern environmental movements. It is not difficult to imagine the factors that propelled this image to such a status. In 2012, images of the Earth from orbit are commonplace; we have all seen satellite images, IMAX films, Discovery Channel and the list goes on. But in 1968, staring back at our planet over the crest of the Moon, for the very first time, humanity saw itself reflected in a mirror in the background of deep space. Looking back at Earth, life seemed fragile, in a brand new way, for the very first time.

From high above the Earth, you recognize some truths that we do not always get to observe from the ground; truths that we, as a society, try hard to forget. There are no coloured lines separating countries or nations. The only separations mapped onto the surface are the divides between land and water. The fragility of the planet comes instantaneously to the observer in space. Astronauts described the atmosphere of Earth to appear as “thin as the peel of an onion”. Just above that horizon, circling the Earth every 90 minutes, ocean pollution, oil fires, and effects of deforestation can easily be seen. Every 90 minutes.

Though we have not ventured physically into deep space, we can already confirm that there are billions of planets alone in the Milky Way. We have yet to find a habitable planet that could cradle life the same way as the Earth has. And, even if we discovered them, we would have no means to reach them. The closest star to our solar system is just over four lights-years away. That is approximately 2.3513993 x 10^13 miles. Voyager 1, followed by Voyager 2, both launched by NASA in 1977, took over 30 years to reach the edge of our solar system and is only now venturing into interstellar space. In space terms, if you were driving from Toronto to Vancouver where Toronto was our solar system and Vancouver was the next closest star, Voyager 1, in 33 years, would not reach Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, or the borders of GTA, or even the 401 on-ramp. In space terms, we have just arrived at the edge of the driveway.

And let’s face it: if we burn down this house (the only one that we have ever known), there is nowhere else to go.

Earthrise is sobering because it offers perspective; something that we, as a species, desperately need. And where our use of technology is often questionable, the one deployment of our tools I always approved of is in the pursuit of self-reflection. Two such programs require our attention.

The Sudan Sentinel utilizes satellite technology to monitor and report human rights violations in Southern Sudan. A network of orbiting commercial satellites collects data while sweeping over the country. The data is analyzed and provides reports on forced population displacements, ordinance detonations, formation of mass graves and village fires in real time 24 hours a day. This information is then used to propagate awareness of human rights violations to the global community. Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have carried out so-called “counter-insurgency” missions against its own people, and the Sentinel already has allowed us to monitor the SAF’s attacks on the few remaining health clinics and targeted refugee settlements where people have been forced to flee to the mountain caves to save their lives.

On a much different note, the second program is the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) soon to be the replacement of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, is currently still in orbit and provide us an incredible window into deep space to remind us that we are a unique yet very small part of the heavens. This past summer, the US Congress attempted to scrap the JWST after recent estimates placed the scope at 16 times its original budget. Hubble will not last much longer. It has already been operational for 22 years. Without a viable replacement, we lose that stellar vista and a legacy we have helped to build for humanity as a whole. Rather than scrap JWST, NASA decided to squeeze the budgets out of almost every other project to ensure that this window to the universe remains open. JWST is scheduled to be launched in 2018 and will have 17 times the light gathering power than Hubble. The photos that come back from this piece of technology will be… well… astronomical!

Having worked in the humanitarian aid sector, I am often questioned about my interest in space science. I am asked, for example, “How many could we feed with the 8 billion dollars we are spending on a space telescope?” That is a fair question. My answer: We can do both. And we really should be. While the space program is often focused on the study of things beyond the confines of our celestial ball, it would seem that space exploration brings home a deeper sense of self. In our first journey to the moon, the iconic photo is not of our alien neighbour, but of our home. I believe, as those touched by Earthrise do that we treat our world differently when we recognize that there are no borders from orbit and our actions can actively shape to build a better future for our planet.

Matthew Cimone is the founder of a community development organization called Esther’s Echo and is currently producing the film “Chasing Atlantis” which documents the journey of 5 Canadians on a road trip from Toronto to Florida to see the final space shuttle launch. He is currently launching a new site called No Borders from Orbit that explores the intersections between space sciences, science fiction and social justice.

Links
James Webb Space Telescope: www.jwst.nasa.gov
Sudan Sentinel: www.satsentinel.org
Chasing Atlantis: www.chasingatlantis.com
Esther’s Echo: www.esthersecho.org

Rare Earth Metals and the Tech Boom

S.E. Smith

Rare earth metals are, if you’re reading this, all around you. They’re in your computer or tablet or mobile device. They’re in the cell phone you may own, and in the other technology you rely on for tasks of daily living. You can find them in the batteries of hybrid cars and in a myriad of other places. With the technology boom has come a spike in the usage of rare earth metals because they’re critical for the construction of some many of the components we need to make technology work. They may have exotic names that are difficult to pronounce, but they’re ubiquitous in daily life in developed communities.

Technology, we are often reminded, is the hope of the future, is the thing we are relying upon for great social and political change. There’s been an especially big push in the use of green technology, and the applications of technology to environmental issues. Technology is touted as the solution to many of our problems, but it carries some problems of its own, some of which go ignored in the haste to promote technological innovation. With tech also come, of course, jobs, which is a particularly critical issue in many regions of the world.

The darker shadows that underlie technology are growing with increasing technological reliance; labour issues abound, for example, as numerous recent exposures on working conditions in manufacturing facilities illustrate. Export of labour to nations with inexpensive labour forces and minimal workplace regulation is very common, and consumers are often not aware, sometimes willfully, of the costs behind cheap technology. Or not so cheap technology; Apple has a lengthy history of human rights abuses in their Chinese manufacturing plants, and their products are not made cheaper by the use of heavily exploited labour.

Environmental costs associated with rare earth metals are quite significant. First, you have to extract them. Then, you have to purify them. After they’re distributed into technology, they often end up in landfills because it is less costly to simply toss equipment than it is to recycle. A push in the direction of electronics recycling has come with its own set of environmental and social problems. And addressing these issues is not a simple process, especially when consumers do not play an active role. Consumers have immense power, when they choose to use it, over the companies they patronize and the kinds of goods they buy, but they need to exercise that power.

Mining is a dirty industry. Some of that dirt is unavoidable because the industry has to tear into the earth to access useful metals and minerals. In other cases, it is avoidable, but only at great cost. Mining companies resist environmental reform because they want to make more money off their products. Some claim it is impossible to provide metals and minerals at the costs demanded by manufacturers, under pressure from consumers. It is for these reasons that they think they are forced to be dirty, because there is no other choice if they want to remain competitive in the industry. Attempts to commit to using clean metals require too much money, and consumers aren’t willing to pay a premium.

Rare metal extraction involves substantial pollution in the mining, onsite processing, and refining phase. Mines create environmental degradation through topsoil loss, poorly controlled tailings ponds that leach into groundwater as well as lakes and rivers, roads slicing through habitat, and the use of large amounts of energy to extract and process the materials they uncover. Some rare earth metals require substantial processing, and that provides a number of opportunities for pollution at every step of the way.

The hard physical labour and exposure to pollution also make it hard to find workers. Mine locations are predicated by deposits in the Earth’s crust, but workforces can be imported, if necessary, if a facility is located in a region where no locals are willing to work in a mine. Mining is hot, dirty work and it comes with few labour protections in some regions. Vast mines in regions like South Africa work people to excess, for very minimal pay, and often do not provide their workers with basic health and safety protections. Here in the United States, mining work continues to be unsafe despite supposedly tough labour laws, and it is among the most dangerous occupations.

After mining and processing, rare earth metals coast along as people use electronic equipment, until that equipment reaches the end of its usable life. Technology is increasingly designed to be disposable in nature. People do not fix their technology; they replace it. It is often cheaper to buy new than to repair, and people may be discouraged from seeking repairs; why would you want to replace that DVD drive when your processor is outdated? Your phone can’t support the latest applications, so you might as well get rid of it if it’s starting to fail, and replace it with a new one that will do the job more effectively.

What happens to discarded electronics? Some end up in landfills, where they create pollution problems of their own as their contents slowly leach out. Many landfills do not have liners equipped to handle things like rare earth metals, which means that surrounding communities get sick as toxins leach out of the garbage. Other consumers send their electronics to recyclers, many under the impression that they are doing a good thing, which it seems like they should be. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a common phrase for a reason, after all.

Some recycling facilities behave responsibly and ethically. They provide their workers with protection from the toxins they encounter on the job, they use pollution controls to limit spill into the surrounding community. Others, however, do not. Many of these unscrupulous operators are located in the developing world, where they can pay workers pennies for dirty, dangerous work with absolutely no protections. Abandoned equipment is left where it is while toxins and chemicals leach out, and people expose themselves to dangerous materials as they attempt to wrench anything of value from discarded electronics. The process inevitably creates pollution and makes people sick, but they have few options for treatment, let alone environmental protection.

Tighter regulations are one solution to the environmental costs of the tech boom. So are changes to the way people think about and interact with technology. Repair, rather than replacement, should be the order of the day. Ethically sourced supplies should be made more available, and the industry should be subject to more intense oversight. Companies that outsource or import labour to exploit people should be publicly shamed for what they do, whether that labour is in mines or recycling centres.

House of Horrors: Animal Research and Institutionalized Torture at York University

Zipporah Weisberg

Institutionalized Torture

Like most major universities and research institutions across North America, York University is home to numerous research projects involving nonhuman animals. Most departments in the Faculty of Health and the Faculty of Science and Engineering use animals — including rats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, nonhuman primates, and probably cats and dogs — for research and educational purposes. Psychology, Biology, and Kinesiology, for example, use a variety of animals for psychological, behavioural, and physiological experiments, while the Centre for Vision Research conducts experiments on macaque monkeys.

Through a Freedom of Information Request, York Students for Animals, a campus animal advocacy group, has been able to ascertain that from Jan. 2010 to Nov. 2011, approximately 105 research protocols using animals were approved. Of these, roughly 30 were listed as “category D” or the most highly invasive procedures, which “cause moderate to severe stress or pain,” and include: “prolonged (several hours or more) period[s] of physical restraint,” “induction of behavioural stresses such as maternal deprivation, aggression, predator-prey interaction,” “induction of anatomical or physiological abnormalities that will result in pain or distress,” “exposure of an animal to noxious stimuli from which escape is impossible,” “production of radiation sickness,” and “exposure to drugs or chemicals that may impair the physiological system.” Category B and C experiments are also very likely to cause pain and distress in animals. They include “acute non-survival studies,” “decapitation preceded by sedation or light anesthesia,” “behavioural experiments on conscious animals that involve short-term stressful restraint,” and “short periods of food and/or water deprivation which excee[d] periods of abstinence in nature.”

Although these experiments are couched in detached scientific terms, and although some are said to cause “minor” stress or pain, it is plainly obvious that they will result in profound psychological and physical anguish. Maternal deprivation experiments are particularly cruel as evinced by those conducted by Harry Harlow, an American psychologist at the University of Madison-Wisconsin in the 1950s and 60s. Harlow replaced infant monkeys’ biological mothers with “surrogates” or mannequins which would emit extreme cold, heat, and even spikes, when touched. He also invented a cylindrical isolation chamber, the so-called “Well of Despair,” into which he would place the terrified creatures for days at a time. While maternal deprivation experiments at York may not involve the same procedures, the fact that they take place at all should be cause for alarm. The agony caused by experiments involving direct exposure to radiation and chemicals is self-evident. Burns, lesions, poisoning, damage to vital organs, and other horrors likely ensue. It is without question that food and water deprivation beyond natural shortages in nature will cause extreme suffering as will “stressful restraint,” whether for a few minutes or a few hours.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that these and all the other procedures listed above constitute torture. Stressful restraint and food and water deprivation, for example, recall common forms of torture inflicted on human beings in prisons and detention centres around the world today. The UN “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” defines torture in part as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Of course, the UN convention applies only to human beings. However, when we consider that many experiments call for deliberately inflicting suffering on animals for the purposes of obtaining “information,” there is no reason it should not apply to animals as well.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a key figure in the development of modern experimental science and the inspiration behind the modern research institution, borrowed the language of the Inquisition to characterize his scientific pursuits. Just as suspected heretics could be led to ‘confess’ their crimes, or reveal their secrets under torture — the latter of which Bacon referred to as “vexation” — so can ‘nature.’ As Bacon put it, “the secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under the vexations of art than when they go their own way.” The paradigm of mechanistic science — which views living beings literally as machines made up of a series of parts which can be assembled, disassembled, and reassembled at will — is also to blame for institutionalizing animal torture. French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) compared animals to clocks and characterized them as automata. This view gave him license to engage in the most heinous of experiments including nailing unanesthetized dogs to boards and cutting them open while fully conscious to analyze their circulation. Judging from the list of allowable procedures outlined above, it appears that in the 500-odd years since Descartes committed these atrocities, our attitudes and practices have not changed a whole lot.

Lab animals’ misery extends beyond the experiments themselves. Many so-called “purpose-bred” animals such as rats, mice, dogs (especially beagle puppies), cats, and nonhuman primates are shipped by air in sealed crates to university campuses from breeding facilities all over the world. Lost cats and dogs are given a measly three days to be reclaimed by their owners before an animal shelter is legally entitled to sell them to a research facility at a cost of approximately $2-6. Once animals arrive at the lab, they are typically confined in small, barren cages and crates where they are denied the opportunity to express or engage in any of their natural behaviours. Lab animals never get a chance to run or play, bask in the sun, roll in the dirt, splash in the water, cuddle with their young or companions, or interact with others in a meaningful way. Instead, they are condemned to lives of boredom, loneliness, and misery in the steel cages of sterile labs.

Animals are also used for educational purposes at York University. In human anatomy classes, for example, York students are expected to perform dissections of dead cats to obtain basic and long-established anatomical and physiological knowledge. Students are often traumatized by this experience but are too afraid of academic penalty or stigmatization to voice their concern. Most students do not know that it is their human right to opt-out of animal dissections and research due to conscientious objection, and that the university can be fined up to $25,000 for not accommodating them. They are also unaware that sophisticated virtual dissection software has made dissections obsolete.

‘Necessary’ Suffering? Paradoxes, Prejudices, and the Tragedy of Modern Science

Those who support animal research typically suggest it is ‘necessary’ on scientific grounds. Without animal research, we have no hope of finding the cure for cancer or HIV, the argument goes. However, the recent ongoing failure of HIV vaccines to perform at the clinical trial stage suggests otherwise. There is also increasing evidence to suggest that using animals as models for human disease and drug and vaccine development is potentially dangerous. Dr. Ray Greek, a former anesthesiologist and animal researcher, and founder of Americans for Medical Advancement, argues animals cannot be used as predictive models for the study of the pathophysiology of human disease because there is simply too much individual, genetic, and biological variation between and among species to accurately extrapolate data from one to the other. As he explains, “even two nearly identical complex systems (e.g., a chimpanzee and a human or even monozygotic twins) may respond differently to drugs and experience different diseases.”

The most recent example of the dangers of non-homology is the TGN412 clinical trial disaster in 2006. The drug had been successfully tested on nonhuman primates, but left the six human participants in intensive care with multiple organ failure and massive head swelling. In response to this fiasco, Kent Woods, chief executive of the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, admitted that, “We believe there was a powerful pharmacological action of this drug in man that was not detected or detectable in animals.” In an article in the prestigious science journal Nature, Michael Hopkin similarly concluded that “preliminary animal tests may not spot potential dangers.” Even if animal research does lead us closer to cures and vaccines, should we even be asking ourselves whether subjecting sentient beings to extreme violence is ever ‘necessary’?

Framing the debate in terms of whether animal research is ‘necessary’ or ‘unnecessary’ is spurious at best for it presupposes that it is acceptable to torture other sentient beings as long as one can find a passable reason. When examined more closely it appears that the reasoning used to justify animal experiments is riddled with paradoxes and prejudices. As philosopher Charles R. Magel observes, “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are like us.’ Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’ Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.”

The view that nonhuman animals’ ostensibly inferior intelligence justifies subjecting them to systemic violence is built on equally shaky ground. As Peter Singer points out, dogs can be considered more intelligent than babies. Does this give us license to harm babies? Surely not! For Singer, what matters ethically is not a being’s level of intelligence but whether or not it is capable of suffering and enjoyment and whether it has an interest in not being harmed. The rats, pigs, mice, cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, and other animals we torture in laboratories certainly meet these criteria. It appears that our failure to accord them ethical consideration comes down to nothing more than plain old-fashioned prejudice. Just as sexists and racists privilege one group over another on the basis of sex or race membership, so, according to Singer, “speciesists allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species.”

These paradoxes and prejudices are what we might call the tragedy of modern science. Most researchers see themselves as genuinely dedicated to improving the lives of both humans and animals. But in a scientific paradigm inspired by the Baconian-Cartesian mechanist model and steeped in centuries of speciesism, researchers are conditioned to desensitize themselves to animal suffering. Some animal researchers defy this model and attempt to cultivate a bond with some of their animal subjects. However, such connections are rare, and in any case are constrained and distorted by the framework of domination in which they are forged. Of course, not all research involving animals is cruel. Cognitive ethologists, for example, study animal minds, emotionality, and sociality by observing and sometimes interacting with animals in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, this approach is the exception.

The animal research community’s underlying ambivalence (and guilt) towards its own practices is reflected in the various techniques it employs to keep the species divide wide, and to keep inconvenient emotions such as care and compassion out of the way. To make sure they are viewed as specimens not subjects, lab animals are typically assigned numbers or codes instead of names, and are referred to as ‘animal models.’ Religious language is even appropriated to ‘sanctify’ the horrific practices which take place in labs: animals are not killed, we are told, they are ‘sacrificed,’ supposedly for the betterment of humanity, but more often than not for the betterment of the profit margin of Big Pharma. In a deliberate attempt to conceal the violence it facilitates, the industry-backed body responsible for ‘overseeing’ and approving animal research protocols (there are almost no laws or regulations governing animal research, only ‘guidelines’), is called the “Canadian Council on Animal Care.” If the same body is responsible for providing care to the animals it condemns to category D experiments, the concept of ‘care’ takes on a whole new and twisted meaning — in fact it is emptied of meaning altogether.

The Way Forward: Alternatives and a New Scientific Paradigm

Though the abolition of animal experimentation at York U and beyond is clearly an uphill battle, some progress has been made recently. For example, Hainan Airlines was scheduled to ship nonhuman primates destined for labs from China to Toronto. Due to pressure by animal advocacy groups, including York Students for Animals and U of T Animal Rights Club, they decided to join numerous other major airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, and many more, in banning primate shipments. The Globe and Mail recently ran an article about the University of Toronto’s decision not to purchase any more nonhuman primates for research after the death of its last macaque monkey. This is a mixed blessing, for it only reinforces the species hierarchy by suggesting that only animals that are most similar to humans should be spared, while the well-being of other animals such as rats and mice does not matter.

Animals’ greatest hope lies in the research and development of alternatives to the use of animals in research and education. Numerous sophisticated alternatives including models and simulators, film and video, multimedia computer simulation, student self-experimentation, clinical practice, and in vitro labs have already been developed. Test tube nerve cells are now being used instead of animals in the search for treatments for disfiguring genetic diseases, and some vaccines are now being developed in vitro. Unfortunately, because science is still stuck in the old paradigm, funding is still weighed heavily towards animal research. Plenty of money is being poured into biotechnology, but biotechnology is part of the problem, not the solution. In developing and patenting transgenic and hybrid animals — or animals whose genome has been deliberately modified, often with the genes of another species — and cloned animals, the biotechnology industry reinforces animals’ status as instruments and commodities. For real change to take place, a shift in consciousness is needed in which our current attitude of violent domination towards other creatures is replaced with humility, respect, and (genuine) care.

To help precipitate this shift, YSFA has launched a humane research and education campaign at York U. To find out more contact: yustudentsforanimals@gmail.com.

Nanotech’s Revolution Should Raise Cautious Optimism

Christopher Butcher

In my final year of film school, I decided to research and direct a short documentary about something that had intrigued me greatly: nanotechnology. I had enjoyed reading articles in New Scientist and watching TED talks on the subject, and decided that if I were to make a film on the subject, it would need to find and focus on areas where the new technology might begin to make societal changes that were harder to spot, or perhaps undesirable if not accounted for. Then I wondered, are there some problems being overshadowed by all of the excitement surrounding this field?

I focussed the film on a few medical applications of nanotechnology that were in early development at the time. The more I read, and spoke with people in the field, the more I noticed similar ethical and environmental issues kept resurfacing. I would like to present my understanding of what I think people should know about the current state of the field, and where it appears to be going.

So, what exactly is nanotechnology? The simplest and most inclusive definition I have comes across is from the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), which defines it as “the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometres.” A nanometre is one-billionth the size of a metre  many orders of magnitude smaller than the point of a needle. The “nano” prefix simply implies that something is either nanoscopic, or has an important feature, which is smaller than 100 nanometres.

Why is the nanoscale so important? Are we not just finding ways of making existing things, like transistors, smaller? Many of the processors in our computers and cell phones have miniaturized components well within the nanoscale, and this has been the case for years. But there are more important reasons why understanding and controlling matter at this length scale is so important.

Consider the following: the nanoscale is actually the crossover point between where matter acts as we generally see it (i.e. in the macro- or even microscopic length scales) and where it begins to take on the unfamiliar properties of the underlying quantum nature of the material. An object visible to our unaided eye, but which has certain structures at the nanoscale, will look different. Nature itself has hit upon beautiful nanoscale structures resulting in, for example, the shimmering iridescent colours of the South American Morpho butterfly’s wings.

I will not even attempt to cover the physics at work here, but you should understand that being able to alter these “size-dependent properties” means that a material that is not usually magnetic, for example, might begin to display magnetic properties as its particle size decreases into the nanoscale. Keep in mind that the chemistry of the material  let’s say it’s made of silver  does not change, but instead its properties change. The same goes for materials changing the ways in which they reflect or absorb light, conduct or resist heat or electricity, or even how strong, brittle, or water-resistant they are. Imagine having paint on your car that automatically heals over scratches when exposed to sunlight  this has in fact been demonstrated by scientists at The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg in 2009.

You can already see how this level of control would lead to amazing innovations and products. What you may not know, however, is that there are hundreds of products using nanotechnology already on the market, and most of them have nothing to do with miniaturized computer components. In fact, it is likely that you have already encountered many of them, and did not know it. The number of current products and applications are too many to mention here, but they include protective films on eyeglasses for water, dirt and scratch resistance, new cosmetics and cleansers, air purifiers and filters, beverage containers that keep soft drinks carbonated longer, more efficient solar cells, and lightweight ballistic body armor.

Secondly, the building of materials and devices on this length scale is also appealing because many of the wonders of biology do their work here. The DNA double helix, for example, has a diameter of roughly 2.5 nanometres. This means that the molecules of life are therefore significantly easier to measure and even alter with precision. The potential ethical implications of re-designing or enhancing someone’s DNA should be obvious. The third major benefit of scaling down to the nano realm is that nanomaterials (materials that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions) have a much greater surface area-to-volume ratio over normal materials. This leads them to have many more potential points of contact with other materials. For this reason, this makes nanomaterials much more chemically reactive.

Under the umbrella of nanotechnology, there are many fields of study, and of course there are and will be many new or enhanced products as a result. Nanomaterials made in very small quantities are called nanoparticles. These can be used in the manufacturing of otherwise ordinary products to make so-called ‘nanoproducts’ such as the ones mentioned above.

All of these features and benefits sound wonderful and they are. But as I will discuss below, each of these new benefits carries with them new challenges and even some dangers in unforeseen or unintended contexts. To begin with, manufacturing a nanoproduct can result in the creation of excess nanoparticles as by-products. These particles have the ability to become airborne, and it has been shown that particles smaller than 300 nanometres are small enough to be taken up by plant and animal cells. You can probably spot one of the potential dangers lurking here. In fact, the field of nanotoxicology has sprung up to study such scenarios.

At this point, you would surely agree that we ought to be careful about how we manufacture, use and dispose of products made with or enhanced through nanotechnology. But as I have mentioned, the products are already here and they are here to stay. A 2006 market research report by Lux Research predicted that by 2014, $2.6 trillion U.S. in globally manufactured goods might incorporate nanotechnology (about 15% of all goods). As of this year, there are 7,464 nanotech patents registered in the United States, with 10% of those issued in 2011 alone. So what is being done to ensure that these products are safe to make, use, and eventually be disposed of?

The first follow-up question at this point must be: can we use our existing regulatory bodies and infrastructure to handle nanoproducts and their resulting materials and particles? Or, should we regulate them completely differently than other potentially dangerous materials? In Canada, as well as in the United States, nanomaterials are handled using the existing regulatory framework; in other words, in the same way as with any other potentially dangerous chemicals. To many nanoscientists (including several I interviewed for the film), a problem with most existing regulation of chemicals is the fact that toxicity and dose-response testing is usually done on the basis of the number of particles involved.

However, nanoscientists have shown that same number (or mass) of nanoparticles are more toxic than an equal number of chemically identical, but non-nanoscale, particles. In a paper for the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy on the topic of nanoparticle regulation, Dr. Bernard Goldstein writes, “Nanotechnology’s promise to produce more with less, and to have characteristics that cannot be predicted based upon the actions of the same chemical in its non-nano form, present challenges to regulatory regimes based upon the ‘laws’ of toxicology.”

“Inherent within the approaches to additional toxicological testing is the unstated but false assumptions [sic] that current toxicological testing techniques are adequate to protect the public against the adverse effects of chemical and physical agents prior to introduction into the workplace or marketing. They are not.” Goldstein continues, “This short-sightedness appears to apply as well to nanotechnology.”

Thankfully, the first steps are being taken in Canada, the United States and the European Union, at least, to recognize and respond to nanomaterial production and use. At present, Health Canada’s Acts and Regulations make no explicit references to nanomaterials. Health Canada instead uses the existing legislative and regulatory framework to “mitigate the potential health risks of nanomaterials and to help realize their health benefits.” That said, the department has recently formulated a policy statement on a working definition for a nanomaterial, based upon input from the community of nanoscientists and manufacturers. The new definition takes into consideration properties such as nanoparticle size, chemical reactivity, and surface-to-volume ratio. Getting the definitions sorted out seems to be the right first step in ensuring that the new technology can prosper, while making clear the potential risks.

Health Canada admits that dealing with nanomaterials using the existing regulatory framework may not be enough. “It is recognized that new approaches may be necessary in the future to keep pace with advances in this area as there is inadequate information on risks associated with nanomaterials at this time.”

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration have begun to assess the potential health and environmental dangers of nanoparticles. In an effort similar to that of Health Canada, the EPA has proposed a Significant New Use Rule to the existing Toxic Substances Control Act, to add nano-specific regulation. Currently, the TSCA covers how “chemical substances are manufactured and used in a manner that protects against unreasonable risks to human health and the environment.” But strictly speaking, nanoscale materials are not considered fundamentally different from other chemicals.

Consistent with the Bush administration’s 2007 decision that no special regulations or labeling of nanomaterials were required, the FDA also does not require this. In 2006, the FDA came under criticism following its approval of a sunscreen product containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles. The nanoparticles in this case were used as a less-visible thickening agent. The criticism came when it became clear that, while the FDA had tested for immediate health effects of direct use of the product, it had not reviewed the impact on aquatic ecosystems when the sunscreen rubs off.

Just how serious this lack of precaution could be is indicated by a late 2011 finding by scientists at Lund University in Sweden; they have shown that “commercially manufactured polystyrene nanoparticles, transported through an aquatic food chain from algae, through zooplankton to fish, affect lipid metabolism and behaviour of the top consumer.” Negative effects observed in fish included “weight loss, the triglycerides-to-cholesterol ratio in blood serum, and the distribution of cholesterol between muscle and liver” as well as “metabolic effects” which affected the feeding behaviour of the fish.

It goes without saying how serious this might be, considering that polystyrene nanoparticles are a “common, FDA-approved substance found in substances ranging from food additives to vitamins,” according to a research collaboration led by Michael Shuler, a professor of Chemical Engineering and chair of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University. In Feb. 2012, Shuler’s group reported that chickens exposed to these same nanoparticles were negatively affected in terms of how iron, an essential nutrient, was absorbed into their cells.

One has to wonder: are the existing regulatory frameworks adequate to deal with the difficulties posed by nanoparticle production? The answer seems unclear, as in most cases, it appears that regulations covering most other chemicals are being altered to accommodate nanomaterials, rather than new laws and regulations being introduced especially to handle the new substances.

In the meantime, there are several large-scale efforts to collect and share information about various nanomaterials, and much of this information comes with recommendations to regulatory bodies and lawmakers. For example, the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies has begun to catalogue the thousands of nanoproducts already on store shelves. In the Inventory section of their website, they list a sunscreen product made by the Florida-based company Skin Rx Solutions called ‘Advanced Protection SPF 30 Oil w/ Clear Z COTE Zinc,’ alongside more than 30 similar nano-enhanced products. It appears that some amount of ‘catch up’ is necessary in the area of publicly available information on these products, including how they were tested.

Another major player in the nano advisory and education game is the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative. Their Environmental, Health and Safety strategy (EHS) seems up to the task of at least supporting a healthy dialogue about nanotechnologies and their responsible use. The NNI does not legislate or regulate; instead, they provide “guidance to the Federal agencies as they develop their agency-specific nanotechnology EHS research priorities, implementation plans, and timelines.”

The NNI’s budget in 2011 was $1.8 billion. Their goals include funding new research and development, helping companies produce new products, developing educational resources, and to “support responsible development of nanotechnology.” An additional $117 million was allocated in 2011 to the EHS strategy mentioned above.

One hopes that with this funding and support of the NNI, the EHS recommendations made in this strategy will be taken seriously by the federal agencies (the EPA and the FDA in particular), and new nano-specific laws will be drafted. The EHS-suggested risk assessment program seems to propose sound procedures for managing nanomaterials throughout their development and product life cycles: from raw materials, to research and development, to production, to consumer use, and finally to disposal or recycling.

Perhaps until we know more, caution should be the priority in the production of consumer products that contain painted-on or mixed-in nanoparticles. In my experience, most scientists are passionate about adhering to the precautionary principle; for me, the question of risk has more to do with hastily-produced consumer products. I interviewed researchers at the University of Toronto who were developing a ‘nanobiosensor’ to detect nucleic acids linked to prostate cancer, head and neck cancer, and leukemia. Accurate detection at the point of care would lead to faster prognoses and better drug decision-making. We should be excited about applications of nanotechnology of this sort, as they seem to be a no-brainer in terms of the immediate benefit they bring  so long as they can be manufactured without producing excess nanoparticles.

It seems that there are some important preventative and regulatory decisions to be made, and we certainly cannot get ahead of ourselves, especially with all of the promise that these technologies show. From the Canadian perspective, it is at least comforting that Health Canada has involved itself so much in this matter. After Canada decides on nanotechnology regulation, the question will likely be: should regulation of nanomaterials be global? Production of nanomaterials in China, or in other industrialised nations, would affect everyone, as nanoparticles are both invisible to the naked eye, and certainly do not respect national borders.

Christopher Butcher is a Toronto-based filmmaker and graduate of Film Studies at Ryerson University. His documentary “Nanoscience in Medicine” is free to watch, along with his other works at bambupictures.com.

Why Socialism?

Albert Einstein, arguably the most important physicist of the twentieth century, was also a life-long political radical who worked tirelessly in Germany and the United States to support anti-war, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist causes. Among many political campaigns, Einstein co-chaired the American Crusade to End Lynching, lobbied to open US immigration during WWII, supported the Communist- and Socialist-backed US Progressive Party, and encouraged refusal to testify before ‘red scare’ Senate committees. Albert Einstein wrote the following article for the inaugural issue of the Marxist publication Monthly Review in May 1948, and its political message remains just as relevant today.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors, which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience, which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history, has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes, which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behaviour.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instil them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behaviour. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought. His life is made possible through the labour and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication has made possible developments among human beings, which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution, which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges, which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures that the social behaviour of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization, which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions, which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labour and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labour power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labour contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labour power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labour encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labour contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labour contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labour, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals, which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

Defend Our Education: Support Teaching Assistants

Jesse McLaren

Organized in just a week, hundreds of people representing a broad layer of the University of Toronto community united for the rally “Defend our Education: support teaching assistants.” As the Governing Council — the 1% on campus — met in a private meeting under chandeliers, the 99% on campus rallied outside in the lead up to CUPE 3902’s Feb. 24 strike date.

Undergraduates were at the forefront of the rally. CUPE 3902 supported the student day of action against tuition fees, and students are reciprocating. OPIRG-Toronto made a video supporting TA’s, and “Undergrads for 3902” has organized a letter writing campaign. As one of their members explained, “[W]e need a politics of solidarity. They support us every day of the year, and we need to stand with them when they need us. The interests are not opposed, they are aligned. We will not be crossing the picket line, we will be joining it.”

She and others brought 1,000 letters signed by undergrads supporting CUPE 3902, and after demands from the crowd, they were let through a police barrier into Simcoe Hall to deliver the petitions to the Governing Council. Meanwhile CUPE 3902 hoisted a banner on helium balloons up to the window where the Governing Council was meeting.

Students wore stickers saying, “I hate my tuition, but I love my TA.” While tuition has been rising, so too have tutorial sizes — a quarter have over 50 students, and a hundred have over 100 students. This undermines the ability of TAs to respond to an undergrad’s educational needs, and reducing tutorial and lab sizes is a main demand of CUPE 3902. As an international student and member of CUPE 3902 explained, “We have been reduced to grading machines. If I’m in the fight it’s because I’m concerned about the quality of education at this university.”

As another placard read, “their working environment is our learning environment.” CUPE 3902 is also demanding better graduate student funding, which benefits both grad students and undergrads. Because of insufficient graduate student funding (PhD students only receive funding for four or five years, when it takes an average of six years to complete), grad students need to take on extra jobs, undermining the time they have to devote to research and teaching. For international students who can only legally work on campus, this even threatens their ability to stay in the country.

There was support from other unions on campus, including Steelworkers 1998 (administrative and technical workers), Unite HERE 75 (food service workers), CUPE 2484 (childcare workers). There was also a broader support, including a Toronto city worker from CUPE 416, Toronto Steelworkers, CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, and Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario chairperson Sandy Hudson — who led the crowd in chanting, “TAs and lecturers under attack, what do we do: unite, fight back.”

At a Feb.24 meeting in Convocation Hall attended by over 800 Unit 1 members, a proposal put forth by the University of Toronto administration was sent to a ratification vote. The proposed agreement made the offer of one-time payouts for graduate student funding in the place of ongoing grants and tuition waivers for unfunded graduate students, and proposed to send all questions relating to capping tutorial and lab sizes to a working group where all decisions will be subject to approval by Provost Cheryl Misak.

Two members of the CUPE 3902 bargaining team resigned over the decision to send the agreement to ratification. Ashleigh Ingle, a doctoral student in Physics, had served on the bargaining team for several months before her recent decision to step down. She has continued to support the mobilization of the union membership since her resignation, stating her appreciation “for those people who have not given up or tuned out, but decided to become increasingly engaged at this important moment in our lives.”

On March 5th and 6th, CUPE membership voted to ratify the agreement, with 67% in favour of accepting the administration’s offer.

Hate Graffiti Scrawled on Door

Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line and Leadership

Between the hours of 1pm on Feb. 3 and 8am on Feb. 4, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line and Leadership (SASSL), organization at York University, received a violent threat. “Watch out! I’m gonna rape you again!” was written on an exterior office door. SASSL notified York Security and the Toronto Police Services.
This act is part of a rape culture that is not exclusive to York University or the York Community. This is an example of a culture that accepts violence against people that identify as women. This incident demonstrates a need for further education. SASSL condemns the actions of the people responsible for this threat. A rape culture supports sexual violence against women by accepting this violence as a norm.

About SASSL

SASSL, an organization run by York students, offers support for survivors of sexual assault as well as their friends and family. SASSL’s definition of sexual assault is any unwanted advance, phrase, gesture, implied meaning, touch, or any other sexual act to which one has not consented. It also includes the event of someone being forced to perform sexual acts against their will. Sexual assault is determined by a lack of consent not the act itself. SASSL defines consent as expressed permission, agreement, and approval that is freely given.

A 24-hour crisis line, accessible by dialling 416-650-8056, provides an unbiased non-judgemental listening ear, information, and referrals. Members of SASSL are actively involved in outreach initiatives such as workshops, tabling, posters, talks, and events. The aim of outreach activities is to educate the broader community about sexual assault and related issues.

In the 90s, York’s Sexual Harassment Education and Complaint Centre realized there is a critical need on campus for emergency support for survivors of sexual assault. SASSL was founded in 1995, with the help of York University administration, receiving its funding from the Campus Safety for Women grant, the Work Study program, and the Graduate Assistant program. In 1999, SASSL became recognized as an important presence on campus when York students elected SASSL to receive a $2.10 tuition levy.
The work of SASSL is informed by three core values: pro-survivor, pro-diversity, and pro-feminist. A caller’s experiences are legitimated and callers are not criticized for their past or present actions. SASSL supports people of all backgrounds, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, and perspectives. Members of SASSL work towards resisting all ideas of oppression. In terms of its feminism, SASSL acknowledges the imbalance of power between gender in our society, resulting in the fact that the majority (not all) perpetrators of sexual assault are men, and the majority (not all) survivors are women.

Community Response to Hate Graffiti

In response to the hate graffiti, SASSL held a community forum on Feb. 16, at 6:30pm in York Lanes. Attendees at the forum expressed the incident makes them feel like SASSL’s services are not valued and that its causes are not taken seriously. Overall, community members feel there needs to be a shift in the general culture on campus.

The second half of the forum was dedicated towards discussing actions that will change general culture on campus. In upcoming weeks, SASSL will be postering, to initiate discussions between members of the York community about issues surrounding sexual assault. During frosh week next fall, SASSL will be launching a major campaign with the main goal of making attending SASSL workshops a priority for incoming students. SASSL also wants to put information about the services it offers on course syllabuses.

In addition to initiatives to educate students, SASSL also strives towards administration accountability. A main concern for SASSL is devising and implementing a substantial policy regarding sexual assault, which would set a precedent for other academic institutions. Equity training for security personnel is another concern. Additionally, SASSL will be encouraging York administration to refrain from using victim-blaming language in information bulletins.

Feminist Action, a student activism group, is furthering SASSL’s goal of changing the general culture on campus. The group chose the topic ‘Sexual Assault and Our Campus’ for its bi-weekly discussion space. The discussion took place on Mar. 1 from 12-1:30pm in Bethune College. Participants were given a safe positive space to talk about their experiences and ideas for resisting oppression on campus. For information about future Feminist Action discussion spaces you can join, their Facebook group ‘Feminist Action @ YU’ or visit their office 206-T in the Women’s Studies Department.

SASSL appreciates the support and quick responses that have been received from community members. The incident has not divided SASSL’s allies, and it has not stopped support for survivors, and work to end gendered violence.