Category Archives: Blog

“Chapter & Verse” at Columbia University School of the Arts, Feb 18

From our friends at Columbia University of the Arts:

Chapter & Verse
Thurs, Feb 18, 2016, 6:30 pm
Co-sponsored by the Center for Justice at Columbia University and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies

Jamal Joseph, School of the Arts
Kathy Boudin, Center for Justice
Soffiyah Elijah, Correctional Association of New York
Carl Hart, Department of Psychology
Samuel Roberts, Institute for Research in African-American Studies
Introduced by Maureen Ryan, Film Program
Moderated by Kendall Thomas, School of Law
Miller Theatre
2960 Broadway


Interdisciplinary conversation on race, justice, and the carceral continuum following a screening of Jamal Joseph’sChapter & Verse.

About the film: “Upon his return from serving eight years in prison, reformed gang leader S. Lance Ingram struggles to adapt to a changed Harlem. Lance lives under the tough supervision of a parole officer in a half-way house. Unable to find a job with the computer tech training he received in prison, Lance is forced to take a deliveryman job in a food pantry. It is thus that he meets and is befriended by Ms. Maddy, a 60-year old strong and spirited grandmother. Lance assume responsibility for Ty’s well being, Ms. Maddy’s 15-year old grandson—a promising student and artist who has become involved in a dangerous Harlem street gang. Lance tries to make peace with G-Rod, the charismatic gang leader and makes a deal to let Ty walk away. But when gang members decide to punish Ty for disobeying the ‘law of the streets, Lance decides to sacrifice his ‘second chance’ at freedom so that Ty can have a ‘first chance’ at a better life.”

Urban Photo Competition from Design Trust for Public Space, Staten Island Arts, and Alice Austen House

Unlocking the potential of NYC’s public spaces
Apply for the Future Culture Photo Urbanism Fellowship by February 9
We’re accepting submissions for the Future Culture Photo Urbanism Fellowship, in partnership with Staten Island Arts and the Alice Austen House, to focus on the cultural community of Staten Island’s North Shore in a time of transformation. The application deadline is Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

The fellowship award includes a $10,000 stipend and a solo exhibition at the Alice Austen House. One of America’s earliest and most prolific female photographers, Alice Austen is best known as a documentary photographer—a style of photography unusual until the 20th century—with a natural instinct for photojournalism.

The Photo Urbanism Fellow’s work will inform the new Design Trust project,Future Culture, in partnership with Staten Island Arts, which will experiment with ways for developers and artists to engage in planning their community. The resulting pilots will offer compelling visions for Staten Island’s waterfront to influence long-term strategies for neighborhood revitalization, sustainability, and equitable economic development on the North Shore. The Fellow will have full artistic vision over how they interpret the topic. Partners Staten Island Arts and the Alice Austen House will provide insights on the topic and connections to the community.

The selection jury will be chaired by Paul Moakley, Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise, TIME & Caretaker and Curator, Alice Austen House, and will include Chris Boot, executive director, Aperture Foundation; Krisanne Johnson, photographer and 2013 Photo Urbanism Fellow; Erica Stoller, director, Esto; Paul Warchol, photographer; Susan Chin, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, Executive Director, Design Trust for Public Space;Janice Monger, Executive Director, Alice Austen House; and Monica Valenzuela, Deputy Director, Staten Island Arts.

How to Apply
All application materials must submitted to bymidnight on February 9, 2016. Materials that do not meet the application guidelines will not be presented to the jury.

See the application guidelines >

Learn more about the Photo Urbanism Fellowship >

Broadway near Whipple Street, next to the elevated JMZ subway line. Photo © 2013 Photo Urbanism Fellow Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust for Public Space

Volunteer Opportunity: GreenThumb Youth Leadership Council

From a member of the UDL community who is now with the NYC Parks Department:

I am happy to announce the second year of Green Thumb’s student Youth Leadership Council at community gardens throughout the five boroughs. Green Thumb is a division of the Parks Department which provides support for all the community and school gardens within the five boroughs.

The purpose of the Youth Leadership Council is to pave the way for next generation of community gardeners in NYC. Students will learn firsthand from community gardeners throughout the five boroughs, who have years of expertise gardening. This is a great way for students to participate in their community, as well as learn new skills, like botany, composting, and agriculture. Through the Youth Leadership Councils, Green Thumb hopes to encourage students to continue participating in community gardens throughout their lives. This is an opportunity for students to gain access to new skills, new ideas, and possibly a new passion that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

The Youth leadership Council requires students to attend a kickoff/training event in mid-April. They must complete 20 hours of service at specific community gardens and if they have completed the program they will graduate in August. College students will also have the opportunity to mentor NYC high school students as they prepare for college.

We want to expand and make the second year of the Youth Leadership Council bigger.  That is why I am asking to spread this information to a relevant audience. If there is a newsletter the school/organization sends out, it would be great if the Youth Leadership Council opportunity was included in it.

COLLEGE ONLINE APPLICATION (Deadline January 31, 2016)



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Student Debt from Two Perspectives: Interviews with Ken Ilgunas and Sophie Lasoff

As U.S. college price308797_10100607551104519_509551402_ns rise at a rate disproportionate to inflation, the country’s growing educational debt has incited a nationwide discussion. From Occupy Wall Street to memoirs to presidential campaigns, student debt is seriously being critiqued at many levels of U.S. society. Ken Ilgunas, author of Walden on Wheels (2013), spoke to UDL about his attempt to get out of debt as fast as possible by living thriftily in a van. Sophie Lasoff, current Gallatin senior and activist, also discussed with UDL the state of the current student debt movement on the NYU campus as well as her efforts in organizing the Gallatin Student Debt Series. These two interviews delve deeper into the reality of student debt today and the policy changes needed to remedy this issue.

Ken Ilgunas, Author of Walden on Wheels

UDL: Student debt is a central issue in the upcoming presidential election as well a current concern for many students at NYU.  How do you think the US government should be addressing this issue in regards to financial aid, student loans, the inflation of college prices, and governmental policies?

KI: Far more seriously. We go to college to better ourselves and better society and it’s tragic and unjust that we have to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt for the betterment of ourselves and the betterment of society. I think tuition should be made far more affordable and interest loans should be far more reduced.

UDL: You express the need for a rerouting of ideals in Walden on Wheels that centers around more meaningful and fulfilling pursuits. Do you think the current generation is thinking more critically about our blinkenilgunasd consumerism in the wake of the recession or, as the economy bounces back, are we falling back into the same patterns?

KI: It’s tough for me to make that assessment, but there’s definitely a collective critique going on. There’s the tiny house movement that’s going on and I find that really encouraging to question how things are and experiment with ways of living, ways of affording tuition, and traveling.

UDL: You discuss how scary it is to leave the “daily drudgery of work.” Can you expand on how people can try to transgress this daunting boundary?

KI: The only way is to lower your expenses. It probably wouldn’t work in New York City and you’d have to go to more far-flung places where that economic situation of a grueling 9-5 schedule is no longer required. For example I lived in Stokes County in rural North Carolina after Duke and last year I lived in Benedict, Nebraska. It was necessary for me to find the cheapest place to live.

UDL: You also discuss the relationship between frugality and freedom and when you lower your expenses you have more freedom. Most people associate financial freedom with personal freedom so can you expand more on that?

KI: I don’t think of freedom as an abstract concept. Freedom very much is tied to our personal finance and economics. If you have a mortgage, car bills, or student debt you’re probably not free. You’re not free to pick the kind of job you want. You probably will have to resort to a more corporate minded job instead of something socially beneficial and idealistic. You’re not going to have the freedom to travel months on end or you may have to start a family and find someone to help you shoulder this gigantic debt. So personal finance and freedom are inextricably linked.

Sophie Lasoff, NYU-Gallatin Senior and Co-Organizer of the Student Debt Series

UDL: Can you briefly explain how you first got involved with student debt activism?

SL: I had been doing other types of activism for a long time, but I hadn’t worked specifically around student debt. I went to the coffeehouse that Kim DaCosta held last fall and my good friend Lucy was speaking on the panel as an NYU dropout.  She spoke about her experience with student debt.  I went there to see her, but then was introduced to Kim,who approached me to see if I wanted to work on the series with her. Then she and I had a couple meetings and started to brainstorm on what we wanted the series to look like and we developed it over the course of that spring. At the same time we did an independent study together on student debt so that really deepened my understanding of the issue and helped me do a better job running the series and relating to what the pertinent topics were.index

UDL: How has your experience at NYU, one of the most expensive universities in the country, helped you understand the effects of student debt or humanized the struggle?

SL: For me personally I don’t think I would have ever gotten as passionate about the issue as I have if it wasn’t for my own personal struggle at NYU.I think that when Kim approached me, it was my first opportunity to work on something that I had been struggling on my own with for three and a half years. It was nice to work on something that was addressing my personal experience in a bigger picture way. I think NYU is really the belly of the beast for student debt and you will find some of the most depressing and heartbreaking stories here about people’s finances and their struggles with debt.That is still underground in a lot of ways and needs to be brought to the surface. The student debt stories initiative that SLAM (Student Labor Action Movement) did allows people to come out of the closet about it and get rid of some of that shame. Otherwise the problem is very individualized and doesn’t have any collective solutions. I think there’s been a lot of work to recover [those stories] and it’s really hard because the people who are most effective have the least time to work on it because they’re working three jobs or have dropped out or transferred. So it’s hard for the people who are most affected to be working on the issue, which I think is always important when you’re participating in activism. If it’s not driven by the people who are most affected it’s not quite as committed and honest as it could be.

UDL: Are we at a turning point for student debt activism with campaigns like the Million Student March and the Fight for Fifteen? Do campaigns like Bernie Sanders’s adequately address the issues of student debt?

SL: That’s one thing: the crisis has gotten so bad that we have to talk about it and the balloon is sort of bursting. There has been a lot of movement and a lot of momentum on this issue particularly political and activist movement. That makes me hopeful. I feel like we’re really ripe for something to happen and I think if done right it would be very easy for a student movement around debt to gain a lot of traction. It affects so many people and it’s an easy constituency to rally because students are so enthusiastic, young, and excited about fighting for a cause. I’m inspired by the student protests that have happened in Quebec and the student protests that are currently happening in South Africa, so hopefully it’s just a matter of time before something like that happens here.

UDL: What did you learn from organizing the student debt series or what do you hope others took away from these talks?

SL: I have learned a lot not just from the work of doing the project, but the people we’ve brought in have taught me so much. As a student who struggles with debt, I’ve learned basic financial skills that I think will be very important. Other students who have come to the financial workshops have been very appreciative of that knowledge and those skills. That’s something that’s just not provided to us at any stage of our lives in school. Unless you have parents that make sure you’re financially literate, you’re not going to know about debt, credit cards, and banks. It’s a crazy system and if you don’t know what you’re doing you’re going to get manipulated and shoved to the bottom of the ladder. That’s been a big part of what the series has tried to do is address the immediate needs of people, specifically around finances and debt, so I hope that people have gotten a lot out of those types of workshops because I definitely have.

Another component is taking a more critical look at the system and encouraging people to think about how this isn’t just an individual problem. It is something that individuals struggle with, but it isn’t just an individual problem and it’s something that we all collectively are affected by whether or not we’re in debt.

We had a panel last semester on the history and culture of debt. Hearing about where all of this came from politically, what bills were signed into law, and how the financial aid packages were created was really enlightening. I think it’s important to revisit and reconstruct that history for people because I think it helps you realize that this is not how it has to be. I think that really opens up a space for people to think about the possibility of what could be and that it doesn’t have to be this way and we can change things.

UDL: What strategies do you think we should be moving towards?

SL: I think there are a whole host of different strategies and different theories of change. A lot of the stuff that has gone through Congress in recent years that’s supposed to be progressive around helping relieve the burden of student loans isn’t necessarily getting at the root causes of the problem. It’s important to reduce interest rates and have more access, but often more access to student loans just means more loans. Incremental reforms can only go so far and more radical actions, like relieving student debt, are not off the table. I think there is just cause for taking drastic action to relieve a situation that has been caused on the backs of average working class people who are going to be paying off these debts for the rest of their lives.

In terms of free higher education, I was really inspired by our last panel and hearing the vision of these organizations and these activists who are trying to establish a system of free higher education in the U.S. Most other developed countries in this world have free or very cheap systems of higher education. I don’t think its impossible to fund; the conversation that we had in the panel around how we could fund these initiatives was really enlightening and according to the facts we were looking at it was totally doable.

UDL: Have any of the stigmas around student debt fallen away since your start at NYU?

SL: I haven’t noticed a shift, at least not at NYU. There’s been a shift at NYU generally about being critical of the administration and I think that has some to do with the exorbitant tuition we have and how things keep rising every year. I think it also has to do with the Abu Dhabi labor violations and the expansion plan. I think that sort of led a larger mass of people to be critical of NYU as an institution so I have seen that shift because that was not the case when I first entered. That’s good to see and hopefully that leads to some institutional changes and shifts.

UDL:  Do you have any advice for activists and organizers starting out at NYU?

SL: I think that we’re on the brink of it more than we realize and social changes in society happen very quickly sometimes, but it needs that momentum and we’re not at a point where we have that momentum at least not here at NYU. I don’t think we’re at a place of momentum in the country either, but we’re getting there and all the signs point towards it. Hyper-local here at Gallatin we’re going to start, in conjunction with the series, The Gallatin Student Debt Collective. We’re going to gather students and faculty who are interested in assessing what needs and priorities the students have and using that information to shape the series and develop any projects as we see fit. We want to open up the conversation and see where others want it to go.

UDL: Thank you Sophie! The Gallatin Student Collective will have a general interest meeting December 11th at 2:00 pm in the 5th Floor Gallatin Student Lounge.


Partnering for Impact: What It Means To Be a “Good” Community Partner

Facilitating change and connecting with IMG_0319other grassroots allies is a hurdle for any community-organizing project. There can be gaps in language, culture, and experience as well as a misalignment of goals, as varying backgrounds and skills come together to try to work on a unifying project in often different ways. Partnering for Social Impact was a collaborative, interactive workshop sponsored by the Urban Democracy Lab that sought to aid other organizers in solving the problems that may arise when linking community groups together for a common good. Continue reading

Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation Today: A Discussion with Silvia Federici

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, "The Triumph of Death" (1562)
Pieter Bruegel The Elder, “The Triumph of Death” (1562)

From our friends at the Fordham Sociology & Anthropology Department:

What is the relationship between women, the body, and primitive accumulation?
Recounting the history of colonialism and enclosure, Marx argued that primitive accumulation was “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” Nevertheless, he perceived the process to be but a prelude to capitalist development. Drawing on her history as an activist in New York’s Wages for Housework movement as well as her organizing experiences in Nigeria and elsewhere, Silvia Federici demonstrates that primitive accumulation is in fact an enduring feature of capitalist exploitation, which disproportionately affects women and people of color. Continue reading

Announcing the ABOG-David Rockefeller Fund Joint Fellowship in Criminal Justice

We received the following announcement from A Blade of Grass:

ABOG-DR Fund Joint Fellowship in Criminal Justice
We’re thrilled to announce an additional 2016 ABOG Fellowship, the ABOG-David Rockefeller Fund Joint Fellowship in Criminal Justice! This additional fellowship will be available specifically to artists or artist collectives with projects that address criminal justice issues. We’ve now added in specific eligibility criteria for the ABOG-DR Fund Joint Fellowship in Criminal Justice to the application page of our 2016 open call, and applicants who meet this criteria will automatically be considered. Individuals and collectives who have already submitted applications that are eligible will also automatically be considered. The application process for all 2016 fellowships remains the same, via this online form.
Continue reading

December 1 | Great New Books in the Humanities: Barrio Rising

barrio-risingFrom our friends at the NYU Center for the Humanities:

Beginning in the late 1950s political leaders in Venezuela built what they celebrated as Latin America’s most stable democracy. But outside the staid halls of power, in the gritty barrios of a rapidly urbanizing country, another politics was rising—unruly, contentious, and clamoring for inclusion. Based on years of archival and ethnographic research in Venezuela’s largest public housing community, Barrio Rising delivers the first in-depth history of urban popular politics before the Bolivarian Revolution, providing crucial context for understanding the democracy that emerged during the presidency of Hugo Chávez. Continue reading

“‘This is not a crisis; it is a scam”: Guest blogger Sophie Gonick on Speculation Nation

Guest blogger Sophie Gonick Speculation Nation stillreviews Speculation Nation (Brown/Gruffat, 2014) and the panel discussion that took place after a screening of the film at UnionDocs on November 1.  Gonick joined the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU in Fall 2015 as a Faculty Fellow/Assistant Professor. She holds a Ph.D. and a Master in City Planning (M.C.P.) from the Department of City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an A.B. from Harvard University. Her recent research examines mortgage lending and financialization, immigrant activism, and contemporary urban mobilizations in Spain. She has also written about squatting and urban informality in Madrid, most recently for the article ‘Interrogating Madrid’s Slum of Shame: Urban Expansion, Race, and Placed-Based Activism in the Cañada Real Galiana,’ in Antipode: A Journal of Radical Geography. Continue reading

Internship Opportunity: Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit

From the Mayor’s office:

The Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU) is the direct link between the Mayor and New York’s communities. CAU organizes participation in key mayoral initiatives at the community level through direct contact with community boards, organizations, and city residents. CAU plays an active role in public events across the five boroughs and in connecting to New York’s diverse communities. Continue reading