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News in Brief: November 28, 2021

Five stories that go ’round the world, much like Beanie Babies.

By News, SAIC

A wide-mouthed character tilts its head back and gobbles up a variety of news briefs and debris. Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Freedom House: Solid “B” student

The US scored 83 on a scale of 100 in the 2021 Freedom in the World Report, an annual report that assesses global political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 non-state territories. That score is down 3 points from last year, aligning with a worldwide downward trend.

It also found that India, the world’s largest democracy, fell from a score of 51 in 2020 to 49 in 2021, a slide that reclassified the country from “Free” to “Partly Free.” Together, the world’s two largest democracies represent about 1.7 billion people.

The Report is put out by Freedom House, a United States organization founded in 1941 “to champion freedom and democracy around the world.” When you’re done rolling your eyes you can flip through individual country data and read about their methodology on their website. 

As an American organization Freedom House is, naturally, American-centric. Ultimately, the Report concludes that the tangible effects on human life and security are the result of authoritarian rule combined with “fading and inconsistent presence of major democracies on the international stage.” Ahem. Yes, you, major democracy in the back, could you speak up?

Democracy is in decline, but capitalism is alive and well

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Illinois-based billionaire Ty Warner has been airlifting beanie babies from manufacturing plants in China to O’Hare International Airport. According to the Trib, Warner has chartered more than 150 flights at around $1.5 million per trip. 

As one of the richest entrepreneurs in Illinois history, it’s a drop in the bucket for Warner to fetch Colin the Corgi Dog and Fredrick the Fox by chartered flight. He’s not the only one. With widely reported backlogs at major West Coast shipping ports, companies like Hasbro, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., Lululemon, Ralph Lauren, Under Armour, Adidas, and other major brands are choosing skies over seas. 

“There’s too much doom-and-gloom out there,” Warner said in a press release, “I’m here to tell our customers that, despite what they may have read or heard, Christmas is not canceled.” Because nothing says Merry (American) Christmas like a billionaire who recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion spending plane-fuls of money to bring Baboo the Plastic Filled Panda to a store near you. 

Loop Auto Parks is not buying it

And nothing says “celebrating women’s voices” like a land-owner censoring a mural that would commemorate Vice President Kamala Harris’s respectable refrain: “I’m speaking.”

Last year the Wabash Arts Corridor, a community-driven art project founded by Columbia College of Chicago, commissioned two murals by local women to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage. The murals were to be painted on the sides of two Columbia College buildings which tower over a small, corner parking lot in South Loop. 

The first mural, “On the Wings of Change” by Diosa, depicts a young girl with an open book in her hands, looking up in wonder as major figures of Chicago’s women’s suffrage whirl around her. The mural’s swirling pages are graced by portraits of Ida B. Wells, Mary Livermore, Jane Addams, and others.

The sister mural, “Speak Up,” by Dorian Sylvain, is a text-based image to accompany the suffragist portraits. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the owner of the adjacent parking lot, Thomas R. Baryl, accidentally saw this design and refused to rent the artist the parking spaces necessary to set up the scaffolding. 

So, just to recap: In celebration of women’s suffrage, a female muralist is blocked by a South Loop parking lot owner who worries that the image is “too political.” Remember that the parking lot is located on Ida B. Wells drive and already features a mural with prominent women suffragists of the 20th century. 

I’ll just leave that information there. The irony speaks for itself.

Speaking of speaking up

The date for a historic union election at the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute has been set! The election will be conducted by mail. Ballots will be mailed to the home addresses of all employees at the two institutions next Wednesday, Dec. 8. Votes must be returned no later than Monday, Jan. 10. 

The election is one step closer in the efforts of Art Institute workers to unionize as the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU). After receiving a strong majority of union authorization cards — non-binding cards that state an employee’s support of the union — AICWU reached out to management asking for their voluntary recognition of the union. Management refused, thus leading to the filing of an election with the National Labor Relations Boards. 

Recently, political and community leaders gathered on the steps of AIC, urging senior leadership to remain neutral while the election is underway. So far, employees at both the school and the museum have been upset and insulted by the respective administrations’ refusal to voluntarily recognize the union and by their subsequent anti-union actions. “Their behavior matches perfectly with the problems that our union is raising and is building to address,” Katie Bourgeois, a mailroom technician and SAIC facilities coordinator said at Friday’s gathering. “Everything they do just emphasizes why we need our own structure and our own voice.”

What the conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers says

On Nov. 24 Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan were found guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Among the charges, Travis McMichael was convicted of malice murder, the deliberate intention to kill someone. Though the legal system “did the right thing” in this case, there has been little solace surrounding the case. One reason for this is grief. 

Another reason, as Politico pointed out, is that we are seeing the forest and not just the trees. “In the span of a week, juries across the country rendered verdicts in three headline-grabbing cases that all dealt with some aspect of white vigilantism,” Politico reporter Brakkton Booker wrote.

Just one day before the verdict, a jury in Virginia found the white nationalist organizers of the deadly Unite the Right rally liable for more than $25 million in damages. In the week before, the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was announced. 

More than jubilation, the conviction of Arbery’s killers sparked somber reflection and renewed distrust of the US justice system. It took 74 days before the McMichaels were arrested, and the arrests were only made after the video of Arbery’s killing was released and widespread protests erupted. This case was almost not a case. 

“If it wasn’t for video footage and protests, these people would have walked scot-free.”Justin Hansford, a Howard Law professor, told Politico. Hansford urges the public to widen their critical view of policing to include the entire judicial process. 

 

Parker Yamasaki is the managing editor at F Newsmagazine. She is currently looking for a sunnier place to sit.

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