Amnesty Spreads the Word on Solitary Confinement

’18by Soorya A’18

On February 3, 2017, QHSS’ Amnesty International presented the issue of solitary confinement in prisons. The project was done in collaboration with Mrs. Majumder-Afzal, Mr. Kalamaras, and Mr. Sweiven. The President of Amnesty, Mohamed M’17 (nicknamed as Momo) explained that the members “[aimed to find a topic that would] target a large part of our criminal justice system and address its effects on our society.” From there, students created a presentation designed to convey the seclusion of solitary and its detrimental effects on the prison populations, as well as focus on the youth involved in the practice. As Valerie F’18 described, Amnesty’s primary goal was to raise awareness of the subject to the students of QHSS. They’ve accomplished this not only by their elaborate presentations, but also by their bold outfits,  displaying the attire commonly worn in prisons.

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Momo M. (‘17) and Nia R. (19’) answering a question during presentations.

For those who may have missed the presentation, solitary confinement is the isolation of prisoners in a cell, anywhere from 22 to 24 hours a day. In order to express the severity of the practice, presenters began by gauging a range of the students’ prior knowledge, asking questions such as, “What do you know about it?” and “What do you think it accomplishes?” In one class, all of the students in the audience were actively participating, both asking and answering questions. According to one presenter, Arwa R’18, the orange jumpsuits themselves sparked interest in students and were “vessels [for students] to ask questions on the topic.”

Amnesty members discussed aspects of solitary confinement such as which countries uses it, what it hopes to accomplish, who is held under solitary, and what its effect is. What seemed to be the climax of the presentations was when the students were shown a 360° interactive video on the effects of the practice. During her presentation, Valerie F’18 found that students “grew wide eyed and had interesting opinions to share with the class.” The video rendered the class silent, as many began to comprehend the severity of solitary. It seemed to be one of the defining moments of the presentation.

The presentations closed with “steps to move forward,” as the presenters explained to the audience the importance of staying involved in the our society. Amnesty members confidently concluded that they “all effectively delivered our message to our intended audience and learned a great deal from the experience” and  “that there were a number of people, regardless of grade, who learned something regarding the experience of solitary or the effects of it.”

Arwa R’18 went on to say, “This experience was valuable to me as well, as I did not know much about the issue of solitary confinement before. This experience allowed me to be actively involved and truly feel that I was helping in the cause.”

Elizabeth Warren Silenced in the Senate

img_5437By Ashley G’18

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was recently silenced after denouncing Republican Senator Jeff Sessions for being unworthy of the position as U.S. attorney general. The Democratic Senator referenced Senator Edward Kennedy and, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King’s letters that condemned Sessions as federal judge back in 1986. In objection to Warren’s statement, majority leader Mitch McConnell accused Warren for having “impugned the motives and conduct” of Senator Sessions, a violation of rule XIX of the Senate rules. According to Senate rule XIX,“no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Although Sessions’ nomination for federal judge was withdrawn after Kennedy and King’s letters, Warren’s reading of the same words resulted in being silenced on the senate floor.  Following a party-line vote of 49 to 43, the Senator was asked to be seated and silent on the matter of Sessions’ nomination until a decision was made.

Warren quoted King’s previous assertion that Sessions, “used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” She also criticized Sessions using Senator Kennedy’s words, stating that he is a, “disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.” Senator Warren brought to attention King’s letter that criticized Sessions for restricting African-Americans from the right to vote to question whether he is suitable for his position as attorney general. Her main intent was not to discuss whether his actions in the past were right or wrong, but to re-evaluate, taking into consideration the information given, Sessions’ nomination.

Being silenced on the senate floor, however, did not stop Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s full letter on a broadcast through Facebook Live. The Senator claims she wants to bring awareness to the people, especially the Republican senators who are considering nominating Sessions, of his character as shown through past events and opinions when he was U.S. attorney of Alabama. Warren deemed it important to make her case because, “the integrity of our Justice Department depends on an attorney general who will fight for the rights of all people. An honest evaluation of Jeff Sessions’ record shows that he is not that person.” Congressman Cedric Richmond from Louisiana agreed, “Mrs. King’s characterization of then U.S. Attorney Senator Sessions was accurate in 1986 and it is accurate now.” Warren also spoke out on Twitter:

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In addition to more than five million views on Facebook, the public showed immense support for Warren on Twitter, where they shared Coretta Scott King’s letter along with the hashtag #LetLizSpeak. Warren’s stand both gained support and spurred debate among the people and Senators alike.

Advocates of Warren claim that rule XIX has been implemented selectively.  Democrats have brought up past occurrences of Republicans who condemned other senators on the senate floor but were not silenced as Warren was. In particular, Senator Ted Cruz criticized McConnell for repeatedly lying about the Export-Import Bank. In another case, Arkansas’ Senator Tom Cotton portrayed and labeled Senator and former Democratic leader Harry Reid’s leadership as “cancerous”. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that the opposition is a result of the Democrats’ refusal to accept the outcome of the presidential election.

Republican Senator John Cornyn  suggested that Ms. Warren was silenced due to her citing of Senator Kennedy’s remark. However, Republican Senator Mike Rounds informed that Ms. Warren was warned while reading Kennedy’s letter, but was silenced over King’s letter. Warren responded with shock that, “the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”

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The silencing of Ms. Warren seems reminiscent of a resolution proposed by Representative James Hammond of South Carolina dating back to 1836. That year, the House of Representatives passed the “gag rule”, which forbid the consideration or discussion of abolition petitions. Essentially, it was a silencing on the issue of slavery, as it urged that, “all petitions, memorials, or resolutions regarding slavery should automatically be tabled and that no further action be taken upon them.” Representative of Massachusetts and former president John Quincy Adams protested against the gag rule, proclaiming it to be a violation of the right to freedom of speech and freedom to petition. In spite of Adams’ numerous attempts to oppose the rule, the gag continued to be enforced until it was repealed in 1844. Some historians say the gag rule diverged from its original intention. Rather than deviating attention from the discussion of slavery, the rule brought more publicity to abolition petitions as people began to question their right to debate slavery.

On February 8, Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general after a 52 to 47 vote that was predominantly along party lines. Although Warren’s cause did not result in the desired outcome, it did bring about awareness and debate regarding the established procedures and practice of the regulations in the Senate. Similar to the congressional gag rule on slavery in the 19th century, Warren’s silencing reminds us of the prominence of the discussion of our civil liberties and representative government.nt

The Grammy’s Golden Girls

By: Rebecca P’18

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards was a star-studded night full of performances and buzz-worthy moments. From the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest’s politically charged attack on President “Agent Orange” to Bruno Mars’ stellar tribute to the late Prince, there was a lot to talk about at the Grammys. However, the talk of the night was centered on two women in particular – Adele and Beyonce.

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A Tribe Called Quest delivered a heated performance at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.

The two women had delivered stunning performances throughout the show. Adele opened the ceremony with her smash hit “Hello” and later returned to the stage to honor the late George Michael with a rendition of his “Fastlove.” Despite having a bumpy start, she successfully completed her performance to a standing ovation. After Adele’s performance, Beyonce blessed the audience with a dazzling performance of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles”. The performance was an ode to motherhood, which was more than appropriate considering that she is expecting twins later this year. Accompanied by holograms of her mother and daughter, Beyonce was decked out in a gold outfit that alluded to divine figures in various mythologies.

The mononymous divas were among the most nominated artists of the night –  Adele with five nominations and Beyonce surpassing hers with nine. They faced off for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and the prestigious Album of the Year. In the end, Adele came out on top, winning all five of the awards she was nominated for. She graciously accepted her Grammy for Album of the Year but also acknowledged Beyonce’s phenomenal achievements.

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Adele and Beyonce at the Grammy Awards.

The variance between Adele and Beyonce highlights an important struggle for the Grammys and for music in general. These women are very unique artists. Known for her powerful vocal ability, Adele is a more traditional singer. Her album 25 is heartfelt and mostly apolitical. Conversely, Beyonce is a more experimental artist who addressed topics such as womanhood and black identity in her Lemonade. Both albums were met with critical and commercial acclaim, yet both focused on different subject matters. So how does one compare the two? How does the Recording Academy determine which is more worthy of being the Album of the Year?

According to Adele, the impact an album has on society should be the deciding factor. When receiving the award for Album of the Year, she acknowledged how an album like Beyonce’s Lemonade made her feel. In particular, Adele highlighted the empowerment it inspired in her black friends. This is an important distinction to be made. Lemonade was made to empower all women, especially women of color. Adele recognized that the album was intended for an underrepresented audience and included the factor of an album’s impact in her acceptance speech. She even broke her Grammy in half to offer a piece of the award to Beyonce. The entire affair was a beautiful instance of women supporting each other despite being distinctively different artists and an example of reconciling the ever-growing gaps in music.

Why Everyone is Deleting Uber

by Catherine (Ching-Yuan) W’17

The #deleteuber campaign trends as netizens around the world scramble to delete their accounts from the popular taxi app, Uber.

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On Saturday night, Jan 28, 2017, between 6 and 7 p.m., the New York Taxi Workers Alliance went on strike, halting taxi rides from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The protest was prompted by the recent executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, which called for a temporary travel ban from seven majorly Muslim countries and the suspension of refugee admissions.

The alliance went on Twitter to inform U.S. citizens about the strike. Around two and a half hours after the alliance released the statement, Uber tweeted that the surge pricing (the increase of price when an increase in demand occurs) at the airport would be disabled.

The tweet caused an uproar among users. Customers accused Uber of advocating President Trump’s ban, and others disapproved of Uber’s ignorance, ultimately leading to the boycott against the app. Many users tweeted screenshots of themselves deleting their accounts and signing up for other ride-hailing companies with the caption “#deleteuber.”

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Five hours after the initial tweet, Uber posted another tweet, stating that they oppose the travel ban and did not mean to undermine the taxi driver’s strike. However, the tweet did not prevent Uber from sustaining a significant loss. According to the Times, over 200,000 customers deleted their accounts.

Following the campaign, Lyft, a lead competitor of Uber, announced that they would donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the course of four years.

On their official blog, Lyft co-founders stated that “banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

Since the pledge, Lyft has undergone a sharp increase in customers and, for the first time, surpassed Uber in app downloads.