To Photograph or Not to Photograph

Guest Post by: Sarah Mielke, Future Professional Photographer

4 Mielke & Donovan Doomed

Photo by: R. Umar Abaasi

When the New York Post published the “Doomed” issue on December 3, 2012, there was a great deal of out lash.  But who was in the wrong: the New York Post or the photographer? R. Umar Abaasi, a Post freelance photographer, claimed that he was only trying to warn the train by continuing to fire the flash on his camera. Somehow, he claims, he magically got a perfect shot of the tragic incident, even using the rule-of-thirds and perfect horizontal lines. Any person who knows the slightest bit about photography could take one look at Abaasi’s photograph and realize that the photo was not taken by accident. So if he meant to take the picture, why not just stand by his decision?

In my opinion, making up excuses for taking photographs is something that a photographer should never do. Sure, this may have been a terrible time to snap a picture, but that is a photographer’s job and what they are being paid to do. As the great Robert Doisneau once said, “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”

Controversy over the ethics of photography occur everyday. Take, for example, National Geographic and the millions of pictures taken by its photographers all over the world. These photographers must photograph subjects and events that are devastating and tragic, yet they continue to do so because it is their job to show the world what is happening. Extreme poverty, famine, disease, and murder: these are just a few of the environments that these photographers face in order to capture the world. Are these National Geographic photographers also in the wrong? Should they not be capturing these people, who like the man in the train, may too be dying?

Ashural Bombing

Photo by: Massoud Hossaini

Photography is a way to capture what is around us, some of which many people may not like to see. Viewing photographs almost forces us to face the truth in what is occurring in the world today. Bad things are happening, and in my opinion, it is in a photographer’s job description to portray everything, not just the good, to the world.  The Pulitzer Prize is most often awarded to photographs that do just this.  The 2012 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Massoud Hossaini, an Afghanistan-born photographer, who captured a 12-year-old girl screaming moments after a suicide bomber ignited a bomb at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul, killing almost her entire family. It is terrible, shocking photographs like Hossani’s that get attention and receive honorable awards, so why was Abaasi’s photograph criticized to the point where the man was receiving death threats? Photography is meant to portray what is happening in the world, whether it be beautiful things, or terrible, tragic deaths, a good photographer will go to great lengths to do so. Despite the often-tragic circumstances portrayed, is that not the job of a professional photographer?

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Reflections on Dollarocracy: Money in politics becomes money is politics

Guest Post by: Haley Teresa Carter, Budding PR Professional

Democracy. This word has driven numerous human rights movements, from the vote for women, civil rights for African Americans, to marriage equality for same sex couples. Now we must use this word to solve another American crisis, the perversion of democracy itself.

Our founding fathers envisioned a country where each citizen had one vote. Of course, this vision excluded women, African Americans and men who didn’t own property, but it was a promising start to a nation based on equal power among individuals. Countless humanitarian activists reformed our nation so people once excluded from the political process are now included. Yet, I know many young people who didn’t vote in the 2012 election. People worked tirelessly for our votes. Many of us don’t use them. What happened?

My generation feels politically powerless. We know that a political process based on the rule of the people is no longer in our hands. The majority of Americans have no impact on decisions made in Congress. We the people don’t run our government. Those at the top run our government. By the top, for the top.

4 Carter imageJohn Nichols, a pioneer in political reform, and Robert McChesney, a leader in media reform, term this exploitation of power Dollarocracy, and they wrote a book with this title. Dollarocracy means rule of the dollar with one vote per dollar instead of one vote per person. The corporate and business communities spend limitless money electing our politicians. At the 2013 Lucius W. Nieman Lecture, Nichols said, “Money is definition, not ideas, values, political candidates or votes.” This definition has led to political corruption and economic stagnation.

Reading Dollarocracy and listening to its incredibly knowledgeable authors at the lecture was a bit intimidating. Like most young people, I feel cynical about the electoral process. I work as an election inspector for the Village of Fox Point (a Milwaukee suburb) and have witnessed firsthand the mockery of our elections. At the 2012 election, the write-in ballots for the positions of president, vice president, state senator of district 8, district attorney and county clerk included:

  • None of the above
  • Anyone else
  • No one
  • No vote
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Michael Jordon
  • Jack Bauer
  • Joe the Plumber
  • Ben Franklin
  • Zombie George Washington
  • And of course, Mickey Mouse

I sought this job out of civic duty. I wanted to take an active role in the political process. It troubled me to see voters turning the presidential election into a joke.

This book and lecture changed my perspective. These voters weren’t creating the joke. They were responding to it. The corporate and business communities had already turned our political process into a joke, spending billions of dollars on toxic TV ads instead of engaging votes in real discussion.

There is hope. The reality of our electoral process is frightening, but its future is not determined. We determine it. Yes, we the people, not we the top. During the lecture, McChesney said, “Our book has some depressing talk, but our history is not one of defeat.” We can win this political war. We can restore democracy.

But how? The solution is multi-faceted and requires the passion and participation of young people. We can’t sit idle while Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola elect our politicians. Young people must lobby for limits on campaign donations and spending. The Constitution has been amended 27 times. We can do it again. Nicholas urges us to take a stand. “We don’t just live in a time of crisis, we live in a time of solutions.” Let’s be the solution.

When Dollars Dictate Democracy

Guest Post by: Caroline Devane, Aspiring Advertising Professional

Dollarocracy by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney brings light to the current state of our government and details the significant role money plays in shaping it.  With campaign spending and contributions out of control, a huge portion of citizens are being undercut in their efforts to have a voice.

3 Devane imageDemocracy is built on equality. When it comes to elections, there is a sense of inspiring possibility with the useful expression of our individual opinions. Nichols and McChesney said it best when they wrote, “They provide the fleeting moment when we can hope that the person earning minimum wage scrubbing toilets on the graveyard shift has the exact same power as Bill Gates, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, or the CEO of Goldman Sachs.”

Yet with the current contortions of our government this notion is less than ideal. The political system operates like a marketplace. Monopolies and duopolies make it almost impossible for competitors to rise up, and if you don’t have the capital you can’t compete in the first place. But the issue here is not about wealth distribution; it’s about the ability to have a say regardless of your resources.

What struck me most about McChesney and Nichols’ presentation was the conclusion.  While the current state of our election process is somewhat depressing, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Nichols ended the discussion on a positive note, not only encouraging us to bring about change, but more importantly reminding us that we can.

The magnitude of the problems and complexities of the dollarocracy can be overwhelming.  How do you even begin to change a system of government? We may try to convince ourselves that there may be nothing wrong and we can just adapt. Yet as Thomas Paine pointed out in Common Sense, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

We don’t want to get caught in this trap. In a true democracy, we the people have the responsibility to speak up when we feel the system is corrupt and promoting inequality.  This is what Americans have always done. Nichols stated that we think everything has gone to hell now, but it’s repeatedly gone to hell over and over again throughout history.  There would not have been any changes in policy or government over the course of American history had there not been people like us recognizing flawed systems and fighting to mitigate them.

Dollarocracy goes beyond detailing the flaws that exist in our democracy. It seeks to open our eyes to the situation so that we aware and motivated, like generations before us, to revolutionize American society.

Fixing Dollarocracy with Democracy

Guest Post by: Courtney Kronschnabel, Future Public Relations Practitioner

Books about politics has never been on my “must read” list. That is the very reason I chose to read this book. I thought, I’m in my twenty’s and I need to get with the program and maybe Dollarocracy can help me get there. Well, it’s safe to say I made a good choice in deciding to read this book.

McCThis is not only a book about politics and money, it’s a book that is calling young people to action through facts, figures and carefully crafted words that explain in a somewhat simple way the crisis America has on its hands. John Nichols and Robert McChesney write about how money and the media is essentially destroying America through our government. They explain how money is dictating the system and how “we now have a system that is now defined more by one dollar, one vote, than one person, one vote.” It’s a game that politicians and media corporations play, and sadly, the citizens of the United States are thrust into the game with out even trying out for the team.

When speaking at Marquette University, Nichols explained the reason we are all thrust into this game is because we have all suspended our belief in the system. We have come to think that money allows the system to work, but in reality, big money is just how the system works. It has become so common that we think it’s normal. And there it is…that was me before reading this book.

McC graphicI was completely one of those blind players not realizing how much politicians spend on elections and not realizing that it isn’t normal. What really drove this point home was when McChesney explained how America spent a total of $10.3 billion in the 2012 elections, while other countries spend a fraction of that. He gave the example of Germany. The U.S. spent $32 more per person in election spending than Germany did. Now that’s a lot of money!  After realizing I was one of the millions of Americans that didn’t realize what was happening, my next though was: sooooo what am I supposed to do about it?

Well not surprisingly enough, they mentioned and focused on that exact question in their speech. Nichols gave a very impressive call to action. I am not sure about the rest of my classmates, but I felt inspired after his speech. After hearing all the somber words containing the harsh facts and figures from McChesney, Nichols brought a light of hope. The solution is simple, “fix dollarocracy with democracy.” He explained how young people just like myself have the power to change the system. We are not always an object of the government. He said, “money is not speech, corporations are not people and votes are not equal to dollars.” And that is exactly right!

A corporation is not me, and one dollar sure is not as valuable as my vote. He called on everyone in the crowd to take a minute and think back at all of the times that the constitution was reformed and then asked us to think about who pushed those reformations through…it was young forward thinking people…it was us. He left us with this thought “you need to decide if you are going to become those founders again.” And so we do, the future of our government is up to us. While that’s a scary thought, I’d argue that it is an exciting one.

Dollarocracy has taught me more than just how congress gets bills passed, how much money other countries spend on elections, or how much my vote is worth. It has taught me that I can be a founder of our government – it just takes a little understanding and perseverance.

The Billionaires’ Game

Guest Post by Dan Paulmeyer: Engaged Citizen

The United States of America are the most powerful country in the world. Few people would doubt that. When we are voting on a new president, the whole world watches because of the elections implications. That is why it is important for our elections to be held fairly and truly decided by the people. John Nichols and Robert McChesney show in Dollarocracy that our elections are a skewered process and need some serious changes.

As a voter in elections, I know that my vote personally won’t decide the election but I take pride in taking part of the election. Voting in the election is one of my ways to express my voice. Dollarocracy shows that elections around the country are being drastically changed by fundraising rules and that is resulting in a change to the whole election process in a way that limits my voice.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 2.27.41 PMThe decision in Citizens United v. FEC opened up political donations and options to anonymously donate unlimited amounts. In 2012, Obama did not beat Romeny, “money beat money.” The authors summed up the effect of the decision by saying that “we have a system that is now defined more by one dollar, one vote than by one person, one vote.”  Everyday Americans are losing their voice in elections and major issues are ignored.

Storylines of elections are now being controlled by the politicians, not the media or the people. Television stations and radio stations are cutting back on the news to be able to fit in all the advertising that they can find. The quality of the news is suffering because mass media outlets have had to cut back resources in the past few years and that is leading to politicians being able to control the news more. This is not just a presidential problem. It is a national problem.

In Scott Walker’s recall election in Wisconsin, he raised “$36.1 million-three times the largest amount ever previously spent on a gubernatorial candidate in the state and more than had ever been spent by all the candidates in any previous gubernatorial campaign.” The shocking part is that nearly $22 million or 64% of individual contributions came from out of the state of Wisconsin. That means he raised most of his money for his election in state of Wisconsin from outside of the state of Wisconsin. To me, that makes no sense. The people of Wisconsin should decide the election in Wisconsin, not millionaires around the country. In the end, the total spending for Walker by his campaign and independent groups was $58.7 million.

American elections are supposed to be a time when everyday Americans select their leaders. They are supposed to make educated decisions based on their beliefs. With the current election fundraising rules, average Americans are losing their voice and the elections are being turned into a game played by billionaires. They have turned the greatest show of democracy in the world into their own personal game. I, for one, don’t want to be a part of the game.

Occupy Nation: A Book that Captures Hearts

Guest Post by: Arlesia Morse

While reading Occupy Nation by Todd Gitlin there were two key points that I believe made not only the movement itself a success but the book as well. The two points could be seen through these two quotes, “We are the 99%” and “People are angry, and right now they’re taking their anger out on themselves – the quiet riots of suicide and depression.” You’re probably wondering why out of all the quotes in the book you would choose these. The two quotes above mean so much more than the naked eye can see.

Morse1Coming from Flint Michigan, where I was born and raised, you see a lot of things as a child and or a young adult that you wish you didn’t have to see. Our city is below poverty level and also one of the most dangerous. You’ve seen the bottom. Parents working dead-end jobs and struggling day-in and day-out. The voice that the movement Occupy on Wall Street gave the “lower class people” was phenomenal! “We are the 99%” gave us a voice. It helped fuel people’s fire to come together and make a difference – to fight for economic and social equality. It captured hearts and energized groups all around the world. Even UAW workers adopted the slogan to show that no matter what your economic status is, we all shall be held accountable – no matter the stature or the size of their wallet.

Morse2Gitlin’s book covering the Occupy on Wall Street was remarkable. It wasn’t your cookie cutter informative book that made you think, “why am I are even reading this.” It was a book that captured hearts in an unknowingly way. It challenges you to view society from a different prospective. This book gave people hope – “the audacity of hope.”  Sometimes hope is just a mere feeling that changes nothing. Other times hope can be so powerful it moves communities and nations. It didn’t matter if the situation was a lost or a win it brought people together in a new light.  With this book he gave people hope and for that, this book is for sure a winner.

I Am Not a Corporation

Guest Post by: Bridget Franke

I am a number, a statistic, a percent, a fraction of so many figures.

I am a portion of the 50.8% of women living in this country.

I am one of the 8,293 students enrolled at Marquette University.

I am part of the 64% of Americans who do not have a tattoo.

And I am part of the 99% of this country exposed to economic disparity.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement brought to light the disturbing figure that 99% of population’s wealth is equivalent to the elite 1% of this country’s richest citizens.  The 99% movement embodied both this country’s frustration and hope. Author and social historian Todd Gitlin does an excellent job of detailing the journey of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and incredible spirit of the occupiers in his book Occupy Nation.

Franke1One of the many strengths evident in Gitlin’s narrative is his ability to capture the personal stories of the occupiers. I was not very invested in the movement and therefore was hesitant to read the book. I knew that I supported the ideals behind the movement, but was cautious about supporting the protestor’s decisions and organization. But from reading personal stories about where the occupiers came from, who their families were and why they were so passionate, I established a sincere connection with the occupiers because together we are not only a percent, a number but we are people.

Gitlin also offers a scholarly analysis of the formation and inner workings of the social movement. He comments on the intricacy of OWS saying,

“Movements are social organisms, living phenomena that breathe in and adapt to their environments…”  “They come, go, mutate, expand, contract, rest, split, stagnate, ally, cast off outworn tissues, decay, regenerate, go round in circles, are always accused of being co-opted and selling out, and are often declared dead,”(pg. 141).

This quote accurately depicts the unpredictable nature of the OWS movement. What started as a small group of protestors, erupted into mass movement that grabbed hold of our nation’s identity.  However, their unpredictability became their downfall.  One of the biggest mistakes was the decision to not elect a leader.  Gitlin quotes someone who anonymously makes the brilliant critique “Anybody who says that there’s such a thing as a totally nonhierarchical, agenda-less movement is… not stupid, but dangerous, because somebody’s got to write the agenda- it doesn’t fall out of the sky” (pg. 136).

From reading this book I was able to form a strong, informed opinion about the movement. Gitlin provides a complete account from both an activist viewpoint and social historian viewpoint.  While I disagree with many of the decision made by the occupiers, I am proud to be a part of the 99% because I too stand for equality and democracy free of corporate influence.

Franke2This photo below came up on my Facebook news feed just yesterday. It was posted by the site UpWorthy. It caught my eye not only because of the powerful sign but because of how prevalent the 99% still are.

To conclude, I feel that regardless of what the media says about hippies, liberals and bums who occupied Wall Street, there is something entirely wrong with the system.  This video offers a creative way of putting it all in perspective.