According to Tristan Harris, it’s going to take more than infinite willpower for billions of people to resist the infinite scroll of the attention economy. It’s going to take regulation, reform, and Apple becoming something of an acting government.
Harris — a former Google design ethicist and the founder of Time Well Spent, a nonprofit that encourages tech companies to put users’ best interests before limitless profit models — insists that our minds have been hijacked in an arms race for our attention. He also insists that, with the help of a Hippocratic Oath for software designers, we can win.
“YouTube has a hundred engineers who are trying to get the perfect next video to play automatically,” Harris says in a new interview with WIRED‘s editor in chief Nicholas Thompson. “Their techniques are only going to get more and more perfect over time, and we will have to resist the perfect.”
See? This is me resisting:
In an interview with WIRED, Thompson and Harris discuss why now is the moment to invest in reforming the attention economy.
THOMPSON: At what point do I stop making the choice [to use Facebook or Google or Instagram]? At what point am I being manipulated? At what point is it Nick and at what point is it the machine?
HARRIS: Well I think that’s the million-dollar question. First of all, let’s also say that it’s not necessarily bad to be hijacked, we might be glad if it was time well spent for us. I’m not against technology. And we’re persuaded to do things all the time. It’s just that the premise in the war for attention is that it’s going to get better and better at steering us toward its goals, not ours. We might enjoy the thing it persuades us to do, which makes us feel like we made the choice ourselves. For example, we forget if the next video loaded and we were happy about the video we watched. But, in fact, we were hijacked in that moment. All those people who are working to give you the next perfect thing on YouTube don’t know that it’s 2 am and you might also want to sleep. They’re not on your team. They’re only on the team of what gets you to spend more time on that service.
Again, the energy analogy is useful. Energy companies used to have the same perverse dynamic: I want you to use as much energy as possible. Please just let the water run until you drain the reservoir. Please keep the lights on until there’s no energy left. We, the energy companies, make more money the more energy you use. And that was a perverse relationship. And in many US states, we changed the model to decouple how much money energy companies make from how much energy you use. We need to do something like that for the attention economy, because we can’t afford a world in which this arms race is to get as much attention from you as possible.
The opportunity here, is for Apple. Apple is the one company that could actually do it. Because their business model does not rely on attention, and they actually define the playing field on which everyone seeking our attention plays. They define the rules. If you want to say it, they’re like a government. They get to set the rules for everybody else. They set the currency of competition, which is currently attention and engagement. App stores rank things based on their success in number of downloads or how much they get used. Imagine if instead they said, “We’re going to change the currency.” They could move it from the current race to the bottom to creating a race to the top for what most helps people with different parts of their lives. I think they’re in an incredible position to do that.
Sari Botton | Longreads | July 2017 | 18 minutes (4,600 words)
In 2007, when a writer going by the pseudonym of “Jeremiah Moss” launched the blog Vanishing New York lamenting the closure of one iconic small business after another due to rapidly escalating rents, I was instantly hooked. It wasn’t long after, though, that I started to notice some major publications dismissing Moss as cranky, overly nostalgic, and naive about the inevitabilities of gentrification. I remember disagreeing with those assessments, and wondering whether I was missing something, or the writers of those pieces were.
So, should I be talking to you as Griffin or Jeremiah?
I think Jeremiah.
Is the main reason you used a pseudonym, and didn’t go to your own demonstrations, that you’re a therapist?
Not really. The time I started to blog I was working as a social worker at a LGBT community clinic and I was doing copyrighting and copyediting freelance on the side to make ends meet, and I was just starting to get my private practice off the ground. So that’s where I was. When I started to blog, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I was sitting on my bed one night and was like, “Oh, I could do a blog. I have all these pictures and journal entries and why not?” And I had written this novel that’s not published about a guy named Jeremiah Moss and I liked writing in his voice. I wanted to keep writing in his voice.
Is his voice very different from yours?
No, not really. But it’s distilled . I just put the blog and the book in his name to kind of keep it separate and not have to worry about. It’s just easier. Read more…
When Jody Avirgan was asked to transform ESPN’s widely-praised 30 for 30 docuseries into a podcast, the producer, who has created podcasts for WNYC and FiveThirtyEight, mused whether the easiest solution might be to convert the documentaries wholesale. That notion quickly faded. “If we are going to uphold the standard and approach journalistically and aesthetically that 30 for 30 films have set, we need to think of these as original audio documentary efforts,” Avirgan told me recently by phone. “It’s not two guys in a room talking sports—it’s reporting original new stories that fit for audio.”
This was Avirgan’s dilemma for 30 for 30 Podcasts, which launched its first season in late June with an exploration of Reebok’s marketing build-up for the 1992 Olympics, a campaign built around decathlon favorites Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson. Sports is a visual medium. We consume sports live, often on high-definition televisions — and soon, possibly, in VR — and conveying the intensity of a tackle is difficult to translate through audio. That’s why even though we are in the midst of a podcast renaissance, there are few devoted to sports.
“I want to see Barry Sanders break five people’s ankles in a row, I don’t want to hear about it,” explains Avirgan. But buoyed by the docuseries’ success, the podcast has found an active audience: While download data isn’t readily available, the inaugural three episodes of the podcast have been ranked consistently in iTunes’ top five downloads, which include producer Rose Eveleth’s episode on the first all-female trek to the North Pole, and Julia Lowrie Henderson’s episode on the bootleg T-shirt industry that introduced the world to the taunt “Yankees suck!”
AstrophysicistMario Livio worked on the Hubble Space Telescope for almost 25 years, until 2015. Throughout his scientific career, he has not only written hundreds of scientific articles and books on subjects ranging from theGolden Ratio to brilliant scientists’big blunders—he’s also extended his creative reach to musical collaborations, including in his role as Science Advisor to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Livio’s latest book, Why?: What Makes Us Curious, is, by his own admission, the farthest afield from his usual subjects of study. But it’s no surprise that someone with as wide a scope of interests as Livio would want to know more about the nature of curiosity itself. We spoke by phone one Thursday morning in early June about what we know thus far about how curiosity works, the purpose it serves, and how to nurture curiosity in children. Livio also answered, with the patience and enthusiasm of an excellent teacher, my rudimentary questions about telescopes and astrophysics, and calmed the terror I feel when I think about how our universe is expanding into nothingness.
I thought we could start with you defining what curiosity is and the way you came to understand it through researching this book.
It’s funny that you should ask this question because one of the things that I concluded in the book, and this was only after I did all the research and everything, is that when we talk about curiosity, it turns out that there are several mechanisms involved. There is a curiosity that we feel when we see something that surprises us or when there is something ambiguous and we want to understand that. But it’s a relatively transitory-type feeling. There is a curiosity that we feel when we cannot remember the name of the actor who played in this or that film. That is another type of curiosity. And then there is the curiosity that drives, for example, all basic scientific research, and that’s our love for knowledge.
So while you will see various types of definitions, like a state for acquiring information and things like that, those never quite capture everything that is involved. Had we known as much we know now about curiosity, we might have invented different words for these different mechanisms. Read more…
After dominating in a lip-sync battle last month that quickly became the stuff of legend, Brooklyn-based drag queen Sasha Velour took home the crown on the most-watched and highest-rated season in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
In a heartfelt conversation with Joey Nolfi at Entertainment Weekly, Velour — an unapologetic intellectual — discusses the theory behind her unique sense of beauty and drama, and how she uses both to champion a historical, political form of drag.
VELOUR: I believe drag is a form of activism. It centers queer people and queer ways of being beautiful, especially in a political context where beauty is narrowly defined or what’s considered important or valuable is narrowly defined, and drag always offers a different option, or a variety of different options… I took for granted how much drag is still about play, and how playing and being light about your identity and yourself is actually a form of resistance, too.
EW: You said at Nightgowns earlier this year that every person who puts on drag is heroic. Why is it important to remind people of that?
VELOUR: There are lots of ways we can resist conservatism. It’s important queer people do that, especially, but also all of our allies because, in conservative systems, non-binary people, trans people, people of color, and even women are never going to be valued and safe. Drag resists conservatism in the most basic way possible, and also in the most effective way possible because it’s improper when it comes to looks, which is everything in conservative systems. Conservatism is all about surfaces and labels and presentation, and drag says, no, we refuse to follow any rules about that. It’s also fun and freeing, and that, in itself, is oppositional to cultures of fear and hate.
EW: Do you hope that’s what your Drag Race legacy will be?
VELOUR: People before have been eliminated for being over-thinkers, and I’ve succeeded because of it. I’m an over-thinker with a fighter’s spirit. I hope my legacy is that sometimes that level of thought is an asset, especially now in this political moment, because this political moment is very anti-intellectual, anti-information, and anti-historical.
No, I just start writing. I don’t have any plan. I wait to find out where it goes. Sometimes I do an outline, but even then, that’s not really a plan, because I don’t really follow it. The novel is bigger than your head. A novel is a gigantic, rambling, incredible thing. All you can do is start. Roy Lichtenstein, who I knew quite well actually, would say the reason most painters fail at art—not at painting, but at art—is because they know what the picture is going to be before they approach the canvas. So the whole idea that there are things you should say or want to say or have to say—fuck that.
Charcoal Joe is your fourteenth Easy Rawlins book. You once said that the eleventh novel in the series, Blonde Faith, was going to be your last, yet you continued writing. Why do you keep returning to Easy? What is it about him?
When I finished Blonde Faith, I couldn’t see another book coming out of Easy. I couldn’t even imagine it. I realized, finally, that I’d reached the border of my father’s life and was entering into the world of my life. I decided if I wrote from that vantage point, from that point of view, I could write the novels exactly the same but with my experience forming it, rather than the experiences of my father and his generation.
Do you have an end in mind?
I don’t know if I have an end plan. It depends who lives longer, Easy or me.
When Jessica Berger Gross told her parents not to call one summer day on a street corner in Manhattan, she didn’t know she’d never speak to them again. Seventeen years later, she remains estranged from the father who physically abused her throughout her childhood, the mother who stood by, and her two brothers, who minimized the abuse. In her memoirEstranged, which follows a much shorter Kindle Single of the same name, Gross—whose previous books includeAbout What Was Lost, an anthology she edited on miscarriage, and the yoga memoirenLIGHTened—details these violent rages, and the bewildering way in which they were intertwined with love and affection.
Gross and I spoke by phone about the process of getting her history on the page, the intricacies of her family dynamic, Long Island (where we both grew up), being Jewish (which we both are), and, inevitably, the fact that we have the same name.
I’d love to start by talking about the title you chose for both your Kindle Single and your memoir, Estranged. It’s an interesting word, now that I’m rolling it around in my mind—it literally means you’ve become a stranger to your family. What does it mean to you?
At the very start of the Kindle Single, I had the definition of that word. And that is, becoming a stranger and becoming a foreigner and, in a sense, becoming strange.
When I made the decision to stop talking to my parents, I didn’t even have a word for it. I had done a lot of thinking about child abuse and I knew that that’s what had happened to me, but I didn’t realize when I said, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” that basically I was making a choice to become estranged. I had never met anyone who had done that, that I knew of. I’d never heard anyone talk about it. It’s such a strange thing when you take an action and it’s not till years later that you can name it.
As we’re talking, it’s occurring to me that it’s an odd word in a certain way—because the truth of it is that in some ways you were estranged even when you lived with your family, right?
You only become estranged afterward if you feel like a stranger in your own home in the first place.
That’s so true! [laughter] My brothers would always say, “Oh, you were adopted, you’re not really a part of our family,” [though I wasn’t adopted]. But their idea was that I was different—and I really was. And everyone in my family really resented that I was different, and I felt that so strongly growing up. So, absolutely. I felt strange in my family and it was in leaving them and making my own family and the family of the larger extended family of my friends that I could no longer feel strange. Read more…
Hawa Allan| Longreads | July 2017 | 3500 words (14 minutes)
Words are said to have settled meanings, yet their formal definitions are often eclipsed by the images they give rise to in our minds. An “immigrant,” for example, is defined as a person who moves to live in a foreign country. Yet in the United States this word has often come to symbolize persons of Mexican, or Central or South American descent. The term “white immigrant” has a dissonant ring; those who move to the U.S. from parts of Europe or Australia are often casually referred to as “expats,” connoting a leisurely freedom of movement not typically conferred to an immigrant. A “black immigrant” is deprived of easy free associations. Black immigrants are unmarked, indivisible from African Americans whose lineage extends to the country’s inception.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has been working since 2006 to identify the distinct legal issues black immigrants face, and the burden of racial discrimination they share with African Americans in the United States. Last year, BAJI published a report with NYU Law School that provides a detailed statistical analysis of the country’s estimated 3.7 million black immigrants. This population is often caught at the intersection of racial profiling and the unforgiving immigration laws that target those with criminal records for removal. Although black immigrants make up 5 percent of the unauthorized population in the U.S., they make up 20 percent of the population facing deportation on criminal grounds. Black immigrants, according to the report, have suffered disproportionately under Clinton-era immigration legislation aimed at sorting “good” immigrants from “bad” immigrants associated with crime or terror.
I recently spoke with BAJI’s Deputy Director Carl Lipscombe about the state of black immigration in America. This is the first in a series for Longreads about the challenges faced by lawyers working during the Trump administration.
Hawa Allan: What is the mission of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration?
Carl Lipscombe: BAJI tackles issues affecting black immigrants using a few different approaches. One way is organizing. We work with members of our community on issues that are important to them and we empower them to take action on their own behalf. We also do advocacy, working in partnership with other organizations towards policy change on local, state and federal levels. We have staff in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and we also have a policy manager based in Washington D.C. who educates elected officials about broad topics affecting black immigrants. And we have two attorneys on staff that I supervise and who provide direct legal services to members of our community.
HA: So there are three aspects to BAJI’s work — public policy advocacy, organizing, and direct legal services. Was this three-pronged mission present at BAJI’s inception or did it develop organically over time?
CL: We were started in 2006 by civil rights and racial justice leaders, veterans who saw immigration as a continuation of the racial justice struggle. They soon realized that the immigrants’ rights movement was definitely not black-oriented. There were rarely black people at the center of immigrants’ rights cases, which were very Latino-focused, so they added the aspect of engaging black immigrants with the struggle for immigrants’ rights.
HA: At least anecdotally, I’m aware of tensions between black immigrant communities African American communities, although persons outside both groups tend to lump them together on a purely visual basis.
CL: I think the issues are still the same. There is obviously a distinct impact of harsh immigration policies on black immigrants, but both groups face criminalization, economic inequality, lack of access to adequate health care, and educational inequities.
HA: I suppose I was thinking about how competition over already meager resources can tend to pit groups that should otherwise be aligned against each other. How black immigrants, being newcomers who are uninitiated in America’s racial issues, think they can somehow “rise above” discrimination.
CL: Yes, I think those are historic tensions. But from our perspective, a lot of these tensions are manufactured by elected leaders, and by corporations in order to pit black people against one another. I think these tensions are fueled by outsiders and from the media. In reality, black immigrants and African Americans are similarly situated in certain contexts. When a black person is walking down the street and a cop stops them, they’re not going to be asked “Are you an immigrant or are you African American?”
HA: Of course.
CL: Last fall, we released a report on the State of Black Immigrants. Even though black immigrants have high educational attainment rates on par with Asian immigrants, they still have the highest unemployment rates and the highest poverty rates among all immigrants. They are over represented in the deportation system, we believe, largely because of their race. Black immigrants represent only about five percent of immigrants in the country but over twenty percent of those in deportation facilities.
Apart from refugee communities, black immigrants mostly live interspersed with African Americans in cities and face the same issues when it comes to criminalization: over-policing and the ramifications of broken windows policing.
HA: When you’re organizing, do you find you’re trying to convince black immigrants and African Americans that they have more in common than they think?
CL: We’re getting people to realize that we have a shared struggle. We have this amazing program at our national conference held every couple of years called the African Diaspora Dialogues, which gets people in small groups — black immigrants and African Americans — to share their migration story and how they experience race in the U.S. So we do a certain amount of work to break down those barriers.
HA: In terms of police brutality, some of the major figures who have symbolized the gravity of this issue include black immigrants, like Amadou Diallo, who was from Guinea, and Abner Louima from Haiti. And there was a more recent case on the West Coast…
CL: Yes, a Ugandan immigrant, Alfred Olango outside of San Diego. One thing that I find striking is that over the last couple of years, there have actually been quite a few black immigrants who have been killed by police. But their cases haven’t gotten as much publicity. Alfred Olango’s sister called the police because—he wasn’t necessarily violent, she just called them to calm him down.
HA: He had a mental health issue.
CL: And he wasn’t threatening her. She didn’t feel as though she was physically in danger but thought maybe the police could help her. Alfred was killed within moments of the police arriving. He was a black refugee, he was a chef, he was from Uganda, and the spin, the immediate spin, was “Oh he had a mental illnesses.”
HA: Right, the media narrative…
CL: It was also reported that he had been arrested before for traffic violations. Because he has been arrested before it means the police should show up and kill him?
HA: When organizing around police brutality do you find that you have to provide a different level of awareness to black immigrants as opposed to African Americans?
CL: I think because of the amazing work of Black Lives Matter over the last few years and the attention that police abuse has gotten, people get it. And that’s across the board. All black people get it. Any time I’m in a taxi or I’m on one of those ride-hailing services and I talk to the drivers, who are often black immigrants, and I tell them what I do, they talk about police brutality. What I find interesting is that they always talk about immigration along with policing. So I think people get it.
HA: I was wondering whether black immigrants who are very recent residents of the United States don’t have the same understanding of how their presence is threatening to the police.
CL: America has a very unique brand of racism. I think that a lot of black immigrants are just not used to it in their home countries where are ethnic tensions, xenophobia, even racism to a certain degree — but racism in the U.S. is very different.
HA: I’m thinking about bodily movements, gesticulation. People especially from the African continent…many have rather large presences, right?
CL: Yes, our communities talk with our bodies. Our voices are loud sometimes and those types of things can seem threatening — black people who are animated.
HA: Make yourself smaller and make yourself safer. But as a newcomer to this American situation you don’t have that kind of education, and that can put you in danger.
CL: I was born here and I grew up in the Bronx. I was taught how to deal with the police by my family. I was told to always carry my ID to the point that I thought I had to carry ID by law. I was taught to always speak respectfully to the police so that nothing happened to me, so I didn’t get arrested or worse. A lot of immigrants aren’t taught this. They aren’t taught to cower to the police or to be afraid of the police.
HA: I was just thinking about Amadou Diallo reaching for his wallet…a simple movement like that obviously doesn’t justify the violence that followed. But I imagine him thinking that all he had to do was to prove who he was and everything would be fine.
HA: From the report on the State of Black Immigrants, I was surprised to learn that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service doesn’t track immigration data by race, only by country of origin.
CL: I was at a conference recently where the history of immigration was being discussed. There were a number of court cases defining whiteness, and it’s surprising, given the history of our immigration laws, that we don’t track this data by race. It actually makes research on black immigrants very difficult because we have to use a combination of USCIS data and census data.
HA: Which makes the category of “black immigrant,” as defined in the report, both over-inclusive and under-inclusive.
CL: Specific communities were particularly difficult to track. For example, it is very hard to get an accurate number of Afro-Latinos in the country because some Afro-Latinos don’t self-identify as black. Latinos generally don’t self-identify as black in U.S. Census surveys.
HA: It’s fascinating that a country that was organized around race, both in the context of slavery and immigration, wouldn’t be tracking this data.
CL: Well, if they did track this data by race, it would make it a lot easier for attorneys to sue for discrimination.
HA: So BAJI was founded in 2006, and I understand that particularly damaging immigration laws discussed in the report came into effect in 1996 — crystallizing the link between the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement. Would you mind discussing this legislation: the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)?
CL: I think it’s important the two bills are taken together. The first one, IIRIRA, expanded the criminal grounds for deportation as well as mandatory detention. Originally, there were only less than a dozen offenses that could get one deported. And even in those cases, judges had discretion over whether or not to detain someone and to ultimately deport them.
After 1996 those grounds expanded to about two dozen. IIRIRA expanded the grounds for deportation and AEDPA was terrorism-related. It established a means of restitution for victims of “terrorist activity” and enabled the federal government to detain individuals believed to be involved in terrorist activities.
Up until the passing of these laws, the U.S. removed on average maybe a couple of thousand people a year. While Obama was in office, we removed on average 375,000 people a year. Obama removed more people in eight years than in the entire history of the U.S. going back to 1892.
CL: What a lot of people don’t realize is that the definition of “felon” under immigration law is expansive. A teenager who throws an orange at a teacher—if they are charged with assault — would be considered an aggravated felon.
HA: In your view, are these the laws that created this nexus of racial profiling and the over representation of black immigrants in deportation proceedings?
CL: Yes, they are. These laws were passed during the Clinton years, but the administrative infrastructure for their enforcement was really set up during the Bush years, after 9/11 when immigration was moved under the newly-established Department of Homeland Security.
HA: Immigration effectively became an issue of national security.
CL: Yes, and Obama further funded Bush’s administrative infrastructure.
HA: And now, of course, we have Trump.
CL: Yes — now we have Trump.
HA: His rhetoric might be bolder—
CL: But he’s using the same laws and infrastructure as Obama.
HA: After immigration was placed under this anti-terror rubric, we now have the so-called Muslim ban. With respect to the Supreme Court recently reinstating certain portions of the ban, does BAJI have any specific response?
CL: Yes—well, for a start, Trump wanted all citizens from those countries to be banned from entry, which he didn’t get and which is good. But I think the Supreme Court did create confusion by carving out an exception for individuals that have a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the U.S. The definition of that term is very unclear. The administration last week issued guidance on what they considered a bona fide relationship to be. It’s limited to immediate family and fiancés and stepchildren, so grandparents will be unable to enter the U.S. As you know, a lot of this community, particularly the black community, don’t come from nuclear families. We come from cultures where the entire community is involved with child rearing and care-taking.
HA: There was a very interesting editorial in the Washington Post that used the recent Supreme Court decision as a basis for refuting the idea that lawyers alone could save us in the age of Trump.
CL: Oh yes, I saw that.
HA: When the travel ban was first instituted, there were a lot of lawyers who went to airports to represent affected persons. Then lower courts decided the travel ban was unconstitutional. There was this hope, especially with figures like Sally Yates, that maybe the law could curb the excesses of the Trump administration.
CL: I agree with that general sentiment — that the law is an important protection for immigrants and a strategic tool that can support those in crisis — but we definitely need more than the law. If we’re really going to change the system, we need to organize, we need to change the leadership, we need to change those who are creating the laws and those that are enforcing them in this harsh, egregious way.
HA: Of course people have focused on Trump’s statement about Mexicans being rapists and the idea of criminalizing immigrants in general, but can you speak to his statements about not only Somalis but also Haitians with regard to TPS (Temporary Protected Status)?
CL: Historically, when we’ve talked about Latino immigration, the context has been the “valedictorian” and the “Dreamer,” the business owner and the immigrant worker—the person who is here to work. But the narrative about black immigrants has been similar black people in general: That Black immigrants are charity cases who are here to take advantage of whatever resources there are in the U.S.
HA: So when Donald Trump’s administration said they were going to review whether or not to extend temporary protected status for Haitians who fled here after the earthquake….
HA: I wanted to ask you about your personal history. I see that you started off as a labor organizer and then you were a public defender, and then you moved onto doing communications for social justice organizations.
CL: I started off in labor organizing when I was in college. I was active at Brooklyn College with adjunct faculty that was organizing. I was in student government and they came to us for support. I started getting interested in the labor movement because I just saw the power of unions and that we could actually make changes in our workplace and shift power dynamics. After undergrad, I interned with an organization called Jobs With Justice, which is a coalition of unions, students, faith groups and community organizations.
What I liked at Jobs With Justice was that we worked at different intersections. It was broadly a worker’s rights and economic justice organization, but we worked on those issues as they impacted immigrants and black people and the environment and healthcare and so on. So I was exposed to these different issues. And I have always had an interest in fighting on behalf of black people and immigrants, that’s why I got into this work. When I got burnt out from organizing I decided to go to law school.
HA: Is that because you wanted to address these issues from a legal perspective?
CL: I think that legal advocacy and organizing compliment one another. When I was an organizer, we often had to work with lawyers on policy — experts and what not — and I found a lot of them just didn’t understand my community, and saw it as their jobs to tell us what we can’t do and what isn’t possible.
When I was an organizer, I felt as though the job of lawyers was to take our power away. They took power away from communities rather than adding to it. And I thought to myself that it would be great to have that skill set and to really be able to use it in a way that merged with organizing and complimented organizing. So I became a public defender after law school. And I’m from the Bronx, so I was fortunate enough to be able to work as a public defender in the Bronx.
I saw that there just weren’t attorneys who were experts in the issues affecting black immigrants. There weren’t many attorneys who were expert at litigating in immigration court, or representing immigrants with criminal backgrounds or with mental illness or histories of substance use.
When I was a public defender, I realized a lot of my clients were black immigrants and I didn’t know that there were legal organizations devoted to black immigrants. There were a lot of organizations focused on Latino immigrants and Asian immigrants but not black immigrants. I was the first person at BAJI with a legal background, so I was able to get our legal program off the ground.
HA: Progressive movements often have to be reactive because they respond to the immediate needs of people who have the least access to resources to defend themselves. Right-wing movements, to the extent that we can call them movements, tend to be more ideological: the purpose of taxes, or questions about “liberty.” They’re not immediately responding to the needs of particular groups of people.
Is there a sense that BAJI in particular, or progressive movements in general, are implementing a vision for moving society forward? Is this even possible when progressive movements are constantly on the defense?
CL: You’re right that progressives are responding to crises. We’re trying to protect the few decent laws that we have on the books, or at least prevent the worst from happening. But at the same time this work is tied to a broader vision of the world that we want see—a world where black people, immigrants, Muslims, woman, trans and queer communities are able to live with freedom and dignity.
I think that we need to keep our eye on the long-term goals. There are times when the people we work with are facing an emergency and we want be there for them, but we do it in the context of fighting for our dreams. Working with other organizations, and being a part of the Movement for Black Lives and other similar groups, I can say the same thing for them. We’re all working toward a broader vision.
Lots of left-leaning Americans are joking about moving to Canada these days, but Sarah Jeong is doubling down on the U.S. — a legal resident since moving to New York from Korea at age three, she applied for citizenship post-election and was sworn in last week. At Vox, Dara Lind interviews her about the hoops and barriers, the surreality of becoming American, and the reason you can probably stop browsing those Toronto real estate listings.
A lot of people of my educational background or political leanings are looking at this and feeling very discouraged, and then there’s sort of the classic, cheesy, “I’m going to move to Canada! I’m going to move Sweden!” Which, by the way, good luck. Good luck navigating their immigration systems, you guys. You have no idea what you’re in for. It’s ludicrous. Only someone who has no idea what an immigration system is like would say something of the sort…
People who are natural-born don’t think about that. They don’t think about the incredible effort it takes to get somewhere. The concentration and effort of will.
It was one o’clock in the morning on August 16th, 2014. In Minneapolis, DeRay Mckesson watched the news on television and scrolled through Twitter. “I saw what was happening on CNN; I saw what was happening on Twitter, and they were telling two different stories. And I said, ‘I just want to go see for myself.’” Exactly one week before, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager. The television narrative highlighted protesters’ supposed unrest and Wilson’s self-defense claim. The narrative on Mckesson’s Twitter timeline was quite different: police brutality and murder.
That morning, Mckesson drove nine hours from Minneapolis to St. Louis to protest in the streets. The Ferguson protests not only propelled to the national stage the Black Lives Matter movement — originally sparked after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, another unarmed, black teenager, in 2012 — it also launched Mckesson’s political activism career — one which he amplifies via social media.
Mckesson makes news in every direction. In March 2015, he quit his job in human resources at Minneapolis Public Schools to devote himself to full-time activism. He helped launch a police-reform initiative called Campaign Zero. He ran for mayor in his hometown of Baltimore. He started a podcast about policy and social justice called Pod Save the People, for which he recently interviewed Edward Snowden and Katy Perry. And he is currently finishing his term as interim chief human capital officer at the Baltimore City Public School System.
He has been tear gassed and arrested during a protest (with charges later dropped). His Twitter following, at around 1,000 in 2014, is now over 800,000 today, and he has become a sought-after guest and speaker. The only constant: Mckesson’s puffy, blue Patagonia vest — his sartorial trademark. But the question on everyone’s mind for the 31-year-old is simple: what’s next?