Advocating for Change

Shit kicking is back in style, and thank god for that. If there was one takeaway to be had from the encampment era of the Occupy movement and the offshoots therefrom, it was the important reminder that sticking a middle finger in the face of power doesn’t just feel good but, if done well, gets results. Of course, there were plenty of other reminders to be digested as well: the importance of strategic organizing, the need for solidarity, the perils of internecine squabbling, the fatigues of long-term movement building, and…well, the list goes on and on. But for many who were moved to march, to donate their time and energy to any of the various May Day activities last spring, to don a hoodie in outrage against the murder of a child, or even to just stand along the periphery of Zuccotti in the name of curiosity, events of the past year have left them with an exhilarating taste for defiance in the face of injustice and immorality which had been long dormant in the United States on a broad scale.

A good amount of the credit goes to university students across the country, undergrads and graduates both, who locked arms to lock horns with authority, who spent countless hours doing the often dull but critically important work of planning effective actions, who allowed their bodies to be abused by batons and chemical agents, who tirelessly documented and critiqued what was going on around them, and who crafted radically reimagined, and at times beautiful, visions of how citizens ought to interact with their societies.  In New York, it’s been no different. CUNY students, including a thick concentration at the Graduate Center, have been a driving force in a movement that continues to build and evolve here despite cynical postmortems from those who’ve grown tired and gone home, or who never liked what they saw in the first place.

In part, this momentum sustains and has been sustained by an arc of broader activism than many acknowledge. The structural inequality, corporate greed, and political dysfunction that animate protests across the country—and indeed the world—play out in grotesque concentration throughout the halls of higher learning and particularly here in the City University system. Readers of this newspaper are no strangers to this reality, and know all too well how the logic driving CUNY’s institutional decision making grinds most against those whom the university is supposed to serve and protect. Happily, readers of the Advocate have also come to expect that the paper will stand up with them as they push back against a system that rarely, these days, looks out for their best interests.

Six years ago, the previous editor of the Advocate, James Hoff, took the reins with a clear mission in mind: to transform the paper into a vehicle for action and change. During his tenure, the Advocate experienced a profound renovation—both in its style and substance—and anchored itself more firmly in the direct interests and concerns of the student body here at the Graduate Center. Consequently, James was able to expand the paper, increase the quality of content and the quantity of readers, and transform the Advocate from being merely a source of information into a tool by which its name could be more fully realized.

As the new editor-in-chief of the paper, I intend to build on these strengths while working to shore up some areas in which the paper has been less successful over the years. This means retaining the same stable of excellent contributors wherever possible while proactively recruiting new voices, maintaining many of the traditional silos of reporting and analysis that made the paper strong while expanding the field of topics and concern covered in our pages, continuing to cultivate partnerships that have been a tremendous resource to the Advocate in years past but looking also to connect with new allies across a diverse terrain of activism and interest. It also means, critically, embracing new and emerging modes of communication more deliberately and effectively.

One of the chief limitations of the Advocate historically has been its publishing schedule.  The newspaper traditionally comes out once a month, and only during the academic year.  As a result, a lot gets lost in the shuffle, and more than once the Advocate has found itself behind the curve on important events and issues of concern to the GC community. This trouble has been especially acute during the summer and winter recess periods, when CUNY administrators seem consistently to make their worst decisions, and when graduate students are scattered around the world doing research, at home getting some much needed rest and relaxation, and least likely to be watching what’s happening on 80th Street and on their otherwise quiet campuses.

No longer. This coming year, the Advocate aims to more deliberately make its presence robust online and in the blogosphere. As this issue goes to press, we are in the midst reorganizing the Advocate website in ways that we hope will allow greater space for robust, interactive dialogue, and that will serve as a platform for online activism that compliments actions being taken on the ground.  The Advocate’s role in this regard couldn’t be clearer. Over the past several years, the CUNY Board of Trustees has taken decisions that were as rotten as they were susceptible to repeal, though members of the university administration didn’t know it at the time.

The first was Brooklyn College’s move to fire an adjunct from teaching a course based on the beliefs about his beliefs, held by a local politician with connections to the board. The second was the BoT’s rejection of John Jay’s request to recognize playwright Tony Kushner with an honorary degree. In both cases, CUNY administrators acted rashly, unfairly, and in the comfort of expected impunity. And in both cases, the Advocate took action against these moves, mobilizing community and political support that was swiftly brought to bear on the Board and others in the CUNY system, pressure which lead to reversals of these decisions in each instance. With greater attention to building an online presence year round, the Advocate will always be ready to engage like this against the predatory actions of administration and government officials whenever they occur.

Part of this overhaul includes deploying social media tools more deliberately moving forward.  The Advocate features profiles on both Facebook and Twitter which we plan to inject with greater life in the coming weeks and months.  In order to increase their effectiveness, however, both demand a greater membership of GC students, faculty, staff, friends, and others. We’ll be reaching out to many of you with this purpose in mind, but will also depend in some part on your willingness to proactively engage with us online.  A perfect first step in this respect is to join our Facebook page (search for “Graduate Center Advocate”), and follow us on Twitter at @CUNYAdvocate. But Twitter and Facebook are only part of the equation, and a small one.  Ultimately, what’s more important to the life of the paper is the variety of voices to which it gives a megaphone.  Therefore, we’re looking to initiate in the coming year a roster of blogs on the website that run the gambit from politics to the arts that collectively serve as a hub for conversation, intellectual and social interaction, and expression for our community no matter where you are or what hours you keep. The Graduate Center boasts a remarkable population of students, faculty, and friends, and we want the Advocate to reflect its diversity and quality wherever possible. So, if you want to blog, or have an idea for one, please let us know and we’ll make every effort to see it through.  And who knows? We may be able to find some money to compensate you for it, as all labor should be.

Back in the real world, you’ll notice some other changes to the paper, largely stylistic. The first is likely already evident to longtime readers of the Advocate. The paper’s layout guru, Mark Wilson, and I decided to reorient the physical design of the paper away from the broadsheet format that was a traditional hallmark of the Advocate to the minitab version you’re holding in your hands. The idea here is simple, and two-fold.  First, we think the new organization will be easier on the eyes. Even with tons of photographs and other graphic enhancements we use to dress up the paper’s copy, the old style hit readers with a wall of grey that we felt needed some breaking up to keep readers focused and engaged. And second, we hope that the new format will allow us greater flexibility to deploy color printing beautifully and effectively in the near future (fingers crossed).

There’s a lot happening in the coming year, and even more to do. We’ll make every effort to continue muckraking and shit kicking on your behalf, while continuing to be a resource and a tool for readers to remain informed and effective advocates for themselves, their schools, and their society. At the same time, the door—real and metaphoric—will always be open if you want to write, rage, or refute. Because in this struggle, as in any other, the most important rule is “never submit.”  But do think about contributing instead.

One comment to “Advocating for Change”
  1. Great Editorial Michael–and thanks for the shout out. Looking forward to seeing the print edition tomorrow. Very curious how this “minitab” as you call it, looks.

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