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Seeds of America: A Review

I have made it a point to use my Goodreads account this past year so I can better remember the books that I’ve read and more importantly, know which ones to recommend to others. However, I realize that not many of my friends use the site and thus have decided to review some of the books that I read on my blog. Hopefully this will encourage me to write more about other topics along the way too. 🙂

So, for my first official book review on my blog, I’ll actually be discussing three books–the Seeds of America Trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson. Published by Simon & Schuster, this young adult series would be best classified as historical fiction. I loved it! Anderson does a fantastic job of detailing critical events from the Revolutionary War and what some individuals experienced. I liked that she made it clear that the British and the Patriots were both good and bad; they both made lofty, empty promises in order to recruit soldiers and despite the fact that many slaves were fighting in their armies, seldom would they be granted freedom. Anderson repeatedly mentions how free black people were often kidnapped and forced back into slavery as well as the fact that most of the founding fathers owned slaves, something that is left out in our history books.

Chains is the first book in the series and is set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Isabel, a young slave, and her sister Ruth have just been sold to Mrs. Lockton, who is frightened by Ruth’s seizures and wants nothing more than to be rid of her. Isabel realizes Lockton’s intentions and sets off to find freedom and safety for herself and her sister. She seeks help from Curzon, another slave, and the Patriot army. She soon realizes that both sides of the war are filled with empty promises and that she has to take matters into her own hands.

“If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains

Forge is the sequel to Chains and is told through the voice of Curzon, who is quickly discovering the hardships of soldiering. After nearly escaping death, he finds himself in even more danger during one of the most pivotal points in the Revolutionary War–Valley Forge. Anderson does a fantastic job of weaving details to tell the story of the grueling winter at Valley Forge.

“What if a king made bad laws; laws so unnatural that a country broke them by declaring its freedom?” He threw his arms in the air. “Now you are spouting nonsense. Two slaves running away from their rightful master is not the same as America wanting to be free of England. Not the same at all.” “How is it then that the British offer freedom to escaped slaves, but the Patriots don’t?”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Forge

Ashes is the final installment of the trilogy. Isabel is still trying to find safety and freedom for Ruth and herself. This task is proving to be even more difficult than ever as the war continues to rage on. Spies are everywhere and it is hard to trust even their closest acquaintances.

“Freedom would not be handed to us like a gift. Freedom had to be fought for and taken.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Ashes

This series would be great for any young adult reader and beyond. The copies that I had included some guided reading questions at the back along with a “Q&A” about details and events mentioned in the stories, excellent tools to use with students. Anderson also uses quotes from historical documents at the beginning of each chapter that could be used to further discuss the content. Reading the series could help start conversations about the Revolutionary War and slavery, deconstruct the “pick yourself up from your bootstraps” mentality, and foster empathy in young readers.

Thanks for stopping by!

“It’s a Big Club, and You Ain’t in It” Oligarchy in America

I promised a blog post by Thanksgiving and here I am, two days past due. Better late than never, right? This post is from the archives; it is an essay I wrote in the Spring of 2015 for one of my favorite classes I have ever taken–Honors Composition II. Matthew Marx taught the course; he always urged us to deconstruct the world around us and try to figure out what media and news sources were trying to “sell” us. I learned so much about the world and myself during that class.

The title of this post is a quote from the great George Carlin. I went ahead and hyperlinked the bit that includes the quote with the title so click there and watch it. I wrote this particular essay about oligarchy, a government power structure in which all of the power rests with a few number of the people i.e. the rich and the elite. Since the President-elect is a billionaire and has appointed billionaires and multi-millionaires to his cabinet, the shoe still fits and it seemed only right I shared this essay about oligarchy with you all. I will write a separate post in the future, after finals, with something other than recycled essays. Until then, enjoy!

“It’s a Big Club, and You Ain’t in It”:

Oligarchy in America

From the time they enter the education system to the time they throw their caps and leave it behind, Americans are taught that they live in a country whose government is the epitome of a democracy. A country built by founding fathers who preached equality, it is known as the land of the free, home of the brave. It is easy not to question the United States’ government’s true form, especially for those who live above the poverty line. However, those with lower incomes feel the effects of what the government has now become. The United States’ government has long been thought of as a democracy. However, as time has passed it has grown into its current state – an oligarchy. Elites have gained the majority of power in government, average citizens and mass-based interest groups struggle to have their voices heard, and despite the fact that it is now 2015 people are still experiencing the effects of tremendous inequality.

When a small group of people have control over a country, the government becomes what is known as an oligarchy. In the case of the United States, the small group of people in power are the elites. Former presidents of the United States (with the exception of a few) went into office with power and wealth. The same goes for members of congress as well as other government officials. This is not a coincidence; it takes an immense amount of money and status to be elected into high government positions. Aristotle states, “Of oligarchies, too, there are different kinds: – one where the property qualification for office is such that the poor, although they form the majority, have no share in the government, yet he who acquires a qualification may obtain a share” (67). It is extremely difficult to gain support for candidacy without the power that comes behind money. Presidential candidates have been known to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their campaigns. Average Americans are unable to run for offices because they simply do not have the funds. They also do not hold the status needed to win an election. Candidates for presidency and other high government positions often have degrees from prestigious law schools such as Yale and Harvard. They have held positions in government before or spent years practicing law. The majority of the population of the United States are not as highly educated; they do not possess knowledge about policy making and laws.  

When elites fill up the majority of offices in government, the checks and balances system struggles to exist. This system is crucial to the government because it helps prevent an imbalance of power between all aspects of law as well as the government and the people. (Madison 113-114) When there are no longer officials in government offices who have the interest of the common people in mind, this becomes a serious issue. Not only does it become easier for oppression to occur but an entity can effortlessly step in and ignore the liberties of the people.

Elites have gained the majority of power in government and thus have a greater impact on policy making. Crucial decisions that may have dire effects are left in the hands of people whose lives do not reflect that of an average American. Laws are passed by people who do not know what the impact could be on those people living in or below the middle class. According to the article “Testing Theories of American Politics” by Gilens and Page, “Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all. By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy” (572). Laws focused on taxation, health care, education, and wages are handled by people whose incomes far exceed the majority of Americans. Important policies and laws that may benefit the majority of Americans are cast aside to make way for those that pertain more so to the elites.

It is not just the people who hold office that influence policies; businesses do their fair share of swaying decisions as well. Corporations and businesses can influence policy makers in a number of ways including contributing to campaigns and forming advertisements directed at lawmakers. Big companies like Monsanto spend millions of dollars a year in order to push their agenda. Monsanto is a controversial agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation; the company is also behind Agent Orange – the chemical mixture used in Vietnam warfare that had devastating effects. Occasionally these businesses even hire former policy makers to lobby for them. In 2013, Monsanto along with the telecom company Comcast and oil refiner Valero signed with a lobbying group ran by former United States senator Blanche Lincoln (Sheppard). Their efforts to influence policies become more effective and efficient with the help of former government officials who know the entireties of the law making processes. This is a serious matter as some of the policies being pushed by corporations could be detrimental to average Americans and the world as a whole. Whether these laws are about drones, pipelines, agriculture, or natural resources they all come with a far bigger impact on the country and the Earth than what the policy makers generally broadcast.

When big corporations and elites have the ability to influence policies, inequality results in the United States. They have power to sway court rulings in their favor and use the money they possess to push certain bills and laws that would benefit them.  Of all the world’s commercial seed market three companies – Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta – control 53% of it. Monsanto is known for ruthlessly taking down small businesses and farmers in court cases over their products. The Center of Food Safety has tracked numerous lawsuits involving Monsanto and farmers. They found 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and fifty-six small businesses in more than twenty-seven states. Monsanto has won over twenty three million dollars from these cases (Harris). Farmers and small businesses can’t afford the outcomes of these lawsuits and risk going bankrupt. When big corporations have the power to win cases over farmers and small businesses and they own a majority of the market, this creates a monopoly effect which ultimately results in economic inequality.

Economic imbalance is also a result of decades of racial inequality. Many assume that racial inequality ceased to exist with the establishment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, the War on Drugs brought forth a war on African Americans. Due to little educational opportunity African Americans worked mainly in factories. Globalization and advances in technology left many without their factory jobs. Without any legitimate employment opportunities, the incentive to sell drugs drastically increased and tougher sentences made jail time inevitable. This has resulted in a continuous cycle of crime, incarceration, and poverty for many African American families (Alexander 5-50). While one could argue that people have the decision whether or not to sell drugs, it is extremely difficult to support and feed a family on a minimum wage salary or a scrawny unemployment check. It is even more difficult to escape this cycle when it is all a person has ever known and when you have virtually no way out. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to steadily grow and the great divide between the white majority and African Americans remains as wide as it did in the 1960’s.

Perhaps it is not entirely fair to claim the United States government is solely an oligarchy. Americans have the ability to vote in regular elections, have the freedom to practice any religion, and have the power to speak their minds. All of these characteristics are central to a democratic government; that is indisputable. However, as the years pass Americans give up more of their rights for the illusion of security and safety. They accept big corporations with open arms for the sake of convenience and the possibility of saving a few bucks, and then wonder why there is such substantial economic inequality in the country. They continue to ignore signs of a crumbling democracy as the government of the United States grows more and more like an oligarchy.

Current voters are more open minded than before and have made it possible for laws dealing with previously controversial matters, like same-sex marriage, to pass in some states. There is hope still that future American children will be taught that their government is the epitome of a true democracy and that those words will ring true. The majority must gain the greater part of power in government, businesses and corporations should not overpower the voices of average citizens and mass-based interest groups, and the great divides between majority and minority groups must substantially shrink. The government’s form is not set in stone; there are ways to fix its current oligarchical state. Exercise the right to vote, be aware of what’s going on in the country and in the world, and above all else, never stop fighting for the equality preached by the founding fathers so many years ago.

****I also need to note the importance of contacting your local, state, and national representatives. If you are worried or excited about a certain piece of legislation passing or don’t like things going on in this country like the DAPL, email and call your representatives. For my Nebraska friends, here is the link to find out who your local representatives are, along with their contact information: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_find.php

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Revised ed. New York: New Press, 2010. 1-50. Print.

Aristotle, “Democracy and Oligarchy.” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2013. 62-72. Print.

Gilens, M, and B.I Page. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics. 12.3 (2014): 564. Print.

Harris, Paul. The Guardian, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents>.

Madison, James. “Federalist No. 51.” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2013. 113-117. Print.

Sheppard, Kate. “Monsanto Hires Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln As Lobbyist.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/monsanto-blanche-lincoln-_n_4110750.html&gt;.

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred?….Does it Explode? â€ť:

I decided to post the following essay that I wrote in March of 2015, and because the topic is still unfortunately so relevant to current events, I didn’t change anything about it. The main purpose of this essay is to discuss racism in America today and how much the country has really changed since King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I recommend reading the letter first; Martin Luther King Jr. sewed together pathos, ethos, and logos to formulate a deeply moving argument. I also recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which goes in depth about the negative effects of the “War on Drugs” on minorities and institutional racism. However, I understand not everybody has the time to read it so I also encourage you to watch the documentary 13th  on Netflix, which discusses the same topics as The New Jim Crow including the cradle to prison pipeline.

 

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred?….Does it Explode?[1]”:

Racism in America after King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

            Unarmed African American men are being shot down and killed by police in broad daylight and protesters are chanting in the streets, “black lives matter.” White college boys sing songs containing racial slurs, making it known that no black man has a place in their fraternity. It is not the 1960’s, a time of substantial inequality when African Americans were risking their lives in pursuit of civil justice, a time when laws were constructed against minorities and the justice system was anything but just. It is 2015, over fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his powerful letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. Fifty years have gone by and it seems everything King said has been forgotten. The opportunity gaps between whites and blacks continue to grow, the judicial and legislative system continue to find ways to target minorities, and many young African American children continue to question, “why white people treat colored people so mean” just like King’s son did decades ago.

Schools were desegregated long before King wrote his letter from Birmingham Jail: it was the supposed fix to the education gap between the white and African American populations. However, it is 2015 and the education system is still not equal for all races. “Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience” (Rich). Failing to teach children because of their race is a failure as a society: it is negligence on a grand scale. This inequality in education ultimately leads to an inequality in employment as well. African Americans are unable to effectively compete for jobs when their schooling is far less than that of their white counterparts. This results in a large number of African Americans holding low-skilled jobs and virtually none holding higher paying positions. It is arguable that the poor education is the fault of where the children live and the schools in the area. However, when the cost of living in more prosperous neighborhoods with better schools is too high to afford, there is little choice but to live in a lower income neighborhood with an inadequate education system.

The education gap has had a minute effect on the unemployment gap which has changed little since King was alive. Although the gap hasn’t changed, studies have found that the unemployment rate is significantly higher in African Americans compared to other races regardless of education levels and since the 1970’s has been 2-2.5% higher than that among whites (Irwin). As a country that boasts about equal opportunity and rights, statistics like this should not exist. Skin color should not determine whether or not a person gets hired by a company, their resume should be the ultimate factor. That is not the case sadly; somehow, to many, white still signifies superiority and intelligence. Just like the little girls who chose the white dolls as smarter and better than the black dolls in Clark’s Study during the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, employers continually choose the best candidate for a job on race alone. Racism is everywhere in this country whether people realize it or not; it is the invisible elephant in every room.

As the opportunity gaps between the minority population and white population grow, so does the number of African Americans and other minorities facing time behind bars. One could argue the obvious: people deserve a punishment when a crime is committed. However, the jail time is largely due to an unjust legal system that finds ways to target minorities. Marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States and 88% of those were simply possession. Nationwide, data shows evidence of racial bias because despite roughly equal usage rates, African Americans are almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana (ACLU). Prison time is detrimental to people for many reasons besides the obvious wasted time of one’s life. The power to vote is lost once a felony is committed as is the right to financial aid. It becomes nearly impossible to find work after prison, especially if the person is a minority. Petty crimes now carry significant sentences and what results is not justice; in the case of African Americans who are more likely to get arrested and less likely to get jobs both before and after incarceration, it certainly isn’t equal justice.   Yet “equal justice under law” is engraved on the United States Supreme Court building; it has been there for decades and after the demise of the Jim Crow Laws, one would think those words would finally ring true. Time keeps moving forward and the laws and mindsets of far too many remain stuck in the past.

Not only is equal justice something whites take for granted, so is the ability to depend on authorities for safety. Perhaps it is due to the fact that everybody has a cellphone with a camera but police brutality cases on the news seem to be on the rise. More often than not these cases involve African American men. Nearly two times a week, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012. 18% of the victims were under the age of 18 (Hoyer and Heath). It is unsettling to look at statistics and to see a blatant racial bias in the form of deaths; it is even more unsettling when a large percentage of the victims are basically kids. These people may have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. They may have just committed a crime or may have been innocent. Regardless of this, it poses an interesting question – would these victims still be breathing if their skin were white?

This racial bias in arrests is not solely the fault of the local and state police force. It is easier and more alluring to make an arrest due to a person’s skin color when the government is dishing out rewards. Federal programs like the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program contribute many incentives for racial profiling by including arrest numbers in its performance measures when doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to local law enforcement each year. Police also concentrate on poorer neighborhoods to meet monthly goals and increase their drug arrest statistics (Urbina). These neighborhoods are mainly comprised of minorities and by focusing on them they are able to spend less time, money, and energy on more serious felony crimes. Once again, this is anything but justice. People are being locked behind bars for years because of possession of drugs proven to be virtually harmless, like marijuana, while murderers still roam the streets. Police departments are rewarded for racial profiling and receive large sums of money while the school systems in the minority neighborhoods suffer and children go years without knowing their parents, a vicious cycle that never seems to end.

Opportunity gaps between whites and African Americans are not a new thing nor is police brutality. King even mentions it in his letter from jail. He states, “when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smother in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society” (King 381). These are just a few of the reasons why King’s son asked, “why white people treat colored people so mean”, and why African Americans are still asking the same question today. The difference between then and now is that the country has had over fifty years to learn from its mistakes, to witness the harsh effects that come with years of racism to both the oppressed and the oppressors. However, it seems as if little has been learned from all the blood that was shed and all the lives that were lost during the Civil Rights Movements. Instead, people choose to ignore the obvious prejudice and racial bias that occurs in society today. Racism isn’t as forward and clear as it was in the 1960’s, but it is certainly present in the country. It appears everywhere, but is probably most often seen in a place that did not exist in the 1960’s – the internet. Ignorant and racist comments are found on just about every internet posting associated with African Americans, especially those stories in which crime or police violence is involved. More and more young children are exposed to the internet at young ages. They see words that are demeaning to their entire race and culture, and if these children are African American they can’t help but wonder what they did wrong to make so many white people dislike them.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a powerful dream for his children, for every single African American, and for the United States as a whole. It seems his vision for this country has been swept beneath the rug, and long forgotten along with other civil rights movements. What happens to a dream deferred? Perhaps it won’t explode. Protests such as those in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of an innocent African American man by a police officer have been mostly peaceful thus far. However, an entire population can only be oppressed for so long, injustice can only occur for so long, and people can only turn a blind eye on terrible acts of racism for so long. The education and unemployment gaps stretch wide between whites and blacks, the judicial and legislative system use their powers in order to target minorities, and many young African American children continue to question the malicious actions of so many white people towards them just as King’s son did decades ago. Change will happen, a movement will be set forth once again in the country, and one can only hope it will come in protests as peaceful as those led by Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Works Cited

[1] “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?” -Langston Hughes “Harlem”

“Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests.” American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, 3 June 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.  

Hoyer, Kevin, and Brad Heath. “Local Police Involved in 400 Killings per Year.” USA Today. Gannett, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Irwin, Neil, Claire Miller, and Margot Sanger-katz. “America’s Racial Divide, Charted.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.  

King Jr., Martin Luther “Democracy and Oligarchy.” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2013. 377-392. Print.

Rich, Motoko. “School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.  

Urbina, Ian. “Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 3 June 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.  

 

Introduction

First and foremost, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to drop on by!

My name is JoVanna and I am studying to become a speech-language pathologist. I have three jobs that share the same mission of providing individuals with developmental disabilities or delays with the services and tools that they need to be successful. I am busy but I can’t even complain because I truly love what I do and what I am studying; I know that is a privilege not afforded to everybody. In my free time, I love to read (thrillers & mysteries are my favorite) and spend time in the great outdoors.

I decided to start a blog because I want to get out of my comfort zone in terms of writing and further develop my skills. I can already write a mean APA formatted research paper; I really want to get better at developing narratives as well as critical analyses. More importantly though, I wanted to start a blog because writing is cathartic for me and it allows me to express ideas and opinions that would otherwise stay cluttered in my head. This blog will encapsulate my thoughts and for that reason, it will contain posts on just about everything–life, national and global issues, book reviews, and more. The first few posts will be from the archives–essays from previous classes. Once the semester slows down a little, I will post more frequently. If I reference anything in a post, I will provide the citation and/or a hyperlink to that source.

Thanks for reading!

JoVanna