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Here’s Why The Current State Of Student Government Elections Are Killing American Democracy

Last December, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on.”

At the time, I considered that to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Trump’s candidacy, metaphorically speaking. To me, it was the latest in a long string of outlandish, extreme, hateful statements made by that particular candidate, and I made my sentiments on the subject known publicly.

Since then, however, I’ve found myself asking that question repeatedly. Not with respect to terrorism or immigration, but rather, with respect to democracy in the United States. What the hell is going on with America’s voters?

I could go on here about the immense anger in the American electorate that seems to be playing itself out through our electoral process, or about the so-called “low information voters” that some academics and several prominent political pundits have spent the better part of eight years excoriating.

But to do so, in my opinion, would be to provide an analysis which lacks depth; if there’s one criticism I have of pundits, it’s that they tend to focus on what’s right in front of their face, and don’t spend much time digging into the underlying issues behind the latest political trends. Besides, plenty of elaboration has already been offered on that in various elements of the media, as is.

Instead, I think it would be better to focus on the endemic problem in American elections today: the loss of the vote’s value as a real expression of political principle to a significant portion of the American electorate.

In my opinion, this isn’t the result of the “dumbing down of America” or any such nebulous conceptual trend, as many pundits and talking heads would suggest. At least, it’s not that, exactly. Instead, I think this is the result of a special brand of apathy by which the average American voter has convinced himself that their vote just doesn’t matter.

Think about it. Surely, you’ve heard someone say that before. I’ve heard it multiple times, myself, from multiple people. And I’ve heard it more from members of my generation than members of others.

To a significant number of Americans, voting is no longer seen as a sacred right or even a civic duty.

It’s seen as a burden and a waste of time. And, as a result, many Americans do just enough to get by when selecting a candidate to vote for.

This is perhaps the biggest difference between modern times and years past with respect to American politics. There was once a time when Americans put serious effort into determining who to vote for – the traditional approach of researching issues, policy positions and records, and selecting a candidate based on some set of criteria.

To each of these voters, the exact criteria were often different – my father often talks about my paternal grandfather, a yellow dog, card-carrying-union-member Democrat from the era of a blue Texas, “voting his pocket-book,” or rather, for the candidate whose economic policies he felt would most benefit himself and his family, whereas my maternal grandmother, a lifelong Republican also from Texas, was always more concerned about electing men and women of strong moral character to office. But, nonetheless, both had a standardized approach that took into account discrete factors in an attempt to produce an objective result.

Those days are long gone.

In their place is an age in which many voters look for the candidate not that they can connect with intellectually or principally, but emotionally. Instead of the candidate that shares their views, they want the candidate that they can grab a beer with.

Instead of the candidate they believe is most qualified for the position, they want the candidate that they feel cares about them the most.

Instead of looking for even temperament in a candidate to take charge of the world’s most powerful military and second largest nuclear arsenal, much of the electorate looks for the candidate that shares a deeply seeded anger that has festered for years while the opposing party has controlled the White House.

Relatability has now replaced capability and suitability as the chief characteristic of electoral viability.

Peculiar though this new paradigm may be, it gives way to an even worse mindset among some younger voters, to many of whom the vote matters so little that even basic ethical constraints don’t apply.

Take, for example, student government elections at The University of Alabama, where I attended undergrad.

If you’re familiar with the politics of secret societies in the United States, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Machine, UA’s underground coalition of fraternities and sororities that has controlled student elections for just over a century, using the flagship university of the state of Alabama’s quaint student government framework as a springboard with which it propels its alumni into some of the state’s most powerful positions.

In the past, the Machine has done some incredibly insidious things. Members of the organization have burned crosses on campus in protest of the election of a black SGA president over the Machine-backed candidate, tapped another non-Machine presidential candidate’s phone lines, beaten up and stabbed non-Machine candidates and campaign staffers, broken into SGA offices in the middle of the night and defamed applications for appointed positions from black and non-Greek applicants with racial slurs and other injustices, stolen both banners supporting non-Machine candidates and stole thousands of copies of the school newspaper containing scathing exposés about the Machine, coerced fraternity and sorority members to vote a particular way through illicit means, and ordered members of Machine houses to boycott Tuscaloosa businesses owned and operated by the families of non-Machine candidates at threat of severe penalty.

As of late, the Machine’s chicanery has taken up a less violent, but no less insidious and certainly no less disappointing, theme.

After losing the SGA presidency in 2015, my senior year at Alabama, for the first time in three decades, the Machine went on a recruiting spree that would make the average SEC booster blush.

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Lillian Roth (C), a sophomore and Machine backed candidate won over 50% of the vote in the campus wide election, defeating two “Independent” candidates to become SGA President.

Throughout the school year, I’ve been kept apprised as numerous Greek houses that previously took strong stances against the Machine were lured down into “the basement,” as the Machine is often referred to due to its members’ subterranean choice of meeting place, by promises of rewards – date parties with the most prestigious fraternities for the sororities, appointments from within their membership to prominent SGA positions for fraternities, and full backing, with all of the Machine Greek votes that come with it, for individual members of non-Machine fraternities seeking elected office.

On the night of the 2016 elections held just last Tuesday, I received text messages from friends at Alabama about frat guys being promised a case of beer for every vote cast for the Machine nominee for the presidency, and screenshots from a conversation between a sorority executive officer and a rank and file member in which a free manicure was offered as an incentive for voting – all of which not only explicitly violates UA election rules, but is also patently unethical.

And yet, among the broad majority of my former peers at UA, this behavior is not only found palatable, but acceptable and even standard.

Imagine that for a minute. To some of the brightest millennials in the country – UA is one of the nation’s top 50 public universities and ranks among the best in the nation for national merit attendance – a vote isn’t the righteous expression of the voter’s political willpower as the American ethos might demand, but instead a commodity ready to be bartered for material gain as menial as beer and manicures.

Among the quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of UA students who take that approach to selecting a candidate for whom to cast their vote, there isn’t so much as an afterthought about the moral or philosophical implications of such a decision.

Read More: The Machine Is Back At Alabama After Winning A Highly Contested Student Election

A little alcohol and some fresh nail polish is all it takes to wash away any objections which might exist over voting for the candidates nominated by a racist, underground organization with a history of violence, corruption and intimidation spanning a century.

You might say to yourself that this is believable, or perhaps even to be expected, in a state like Alabama, where just last week a sitting United States Senator endorsed a presidential candidate on the same day that same presidential candidate tacitly accepted an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan.

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Sabrina Philipp, a senior at the University of Florida was featured in a video detailing her experiences as a leading member of the “system”, a secret organization that helps Greek affiliated students move up in student government and influences actions taken by it.

And you would have a point; if there’s any state where this kind of nefariousness is the norm, it would be Alabama. But consider this: The University of Alabama isn’t the only place where things like this are happening.

Just last month, a whistleblower at The University of Florida came forward in a tell-all video to discuss the System, an underground organization bent on student election domination at UF eerily similar to the Machine in both design and methodology.

And Yale, of course, is home to the infamous Skull & Bones.

Numerous other universities foster student governments dominated by their Greek systems, though, to be fair, with far less violence and blatantly corrupt activity.

Nonetheless, it seems the very kind of backroom dealings we so despise Washington for have their roots in America’s college campuses.

You might also say that student government elections are trivial things in and of themselves, and that it’s laughable to say that students should be expected to take them as seriously as “real” elections.

To that, I point out that student government and student elections are universally considered to be educational experiences for candidates, elected officials, appointees and voters alike by university administrations; indeed, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly held exactly that in reference to The University of Alabama’s Student Government Association in 1989.

Humans are creatures of habit, and voting patterns are at their core habits themselves. The habits these students form in college don’t simply end at the graduation stage. Indeed, Cleo Thomas, who became the first black SGA President at UA in 1976 and is one of only nine UA students to ever beat the Machine in a presidential bid, called campus politics at the Capstone “the training ground” for “how [elected officials] govern Alabama” in a 2015 interview.

Where politicians are concerned, Thomas’s words sum up the political history of Alabama over the last century; senior US Senator from Alabama Richard Shelby is a Machine alumnus, as are two of his predecessors in Alabama’s Senate delegation and a long list of Alabama governors and congressmen.

“What Starts Here Changes the World,” the motto of The University of Texas, could be adapted to fit The University of Alabama as, “What Starts Here Runs the State.”

But the “training ground” statement rings true for voters as well, and is demonstrated by another illustrative example from my time at UA. In 2013, amid an entirely separate segregation scandal in UA sororities, several hundred UA students filed to vote in local school board and city council elections, electing two former Machine-backed SGA presidents to the two separate governing bodies respectively, and ousting a highly respected school board incumbent in the process.

As though that action wasn’t audacious enough in itself, campus was soon inundated with reports that the students had not only illicitly registered to vote, but had been shuttled to the polling stations in limousines, and then taken to local bars to be served free alcohol after voting.

Just as they set aside any semblance of a moral compass to mindlessly vote for whomever they were instructed to in SGA elections, those students directly incurred in a local election to do the same in exchange for free drinks, taking the first step toward carrying the habit over into their adult lives.

The difference between student government and real government was, I suppose you could say, trivial, in their eyes.

If Donald Trump’s campaign is indicative of the state of democracy in modern day America, this is a sign of its future.

Democracy cannot continue to function in a society where America educates her best and brightest in a way that inherently objectifies and devalues it.

Mindless, coerced, bribed, group-think style voting is not what our Founding Fathers intended, nor is it what our brave men and women in uniform fought and died to protect.

This is the kind of democracy that lends itself to despotism and, eventually, societal ruin.

Ronald Reagan once famously said that freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction.

The same rings true for our system of government. The longer we allow our democracy to be turned into a reality TV show and our votes to be traded for alcohol and cosmetics, the shorter its lifespan will be.

In order to reverse this trend, it is incumbent upon you, the average American, whether you be a college student, a working adult or a retired senior citizen, to actively take responsibility for your vote.

Research the issues, discuss them civilly, but openly and vigorously, with trusted family and friends, teach your children to value their rights and to think independently, and most importantly, always take a strong, principled stance for ethics and integrity in the electoral process.

If you don’t – if we as Americans don’t become the good stewards of our system of government that our ancestors were – the day will come when you no longer can.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Lillian Roth for SGA President/ Facebook

10 Days In Turkey: An American Student Comes Face To Face With The Islamic Crisis Of Modernity

When you spend time in a place with a culture wholly different from yours, it tends to stick in your mind, either with a positive or negative connotation.

The food, the people, the experience as whole all leave a mark in your mind.

My trip to Turkey, specifically the city of Istanbul and the region of Cappadocia left me with mixed views on the nation.

My personal experience was nothing but positive.

However, overlooking the injustice of a government that is trampling on free speech, concentrating autocratic power in an ever shifting executive and perpetrating a brutal war on the Kurds is impossible.

In any event, we in the West have to better understand what Turkey is and where it is going.

Turkey is by no means an average American’s tourist destination, as it is still ostracized as part of the oft-maligned “Muslim world.”

Unlike the oft-problematic Iran or a friendly Israel, Turkey, on paper at a least, is a secular nation.

Despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent Islamization, the nation does still retain a secular vibe to it.

Sharia law is, to the dismay of American über conservatives and anti-Islam activists, not implemented, although the population is 98% Muslim.

The overwhelming number of women do not wear headscarves. A small number of women, often concentrated in more conservative neighborhoods, wear burqas.

Business is booming, in Beyoğlu, the party district complete with free-flowing alcohol, an unusual quality for a nation with such a high concentration of Muslims.

Despite Turkey’s largely secular nature, it retains unmistakably Muslim qualities, which have become amplified under Erdogan. If you expect to go to Turkey and feel as if you are in a European city such as Paris or Prague, you will be in for a surprise.

In Istanbul, the call to prayer rings loud and clear five times a day, although the overwhelming majority of Istanbulites are not rushing off the street to get into a Mosque to pray.

Istanbul is a Muslim city in the same way that Paris is Christian city-largely by cultural hegemony, although in Christianity, the visual cues are far more subtle. Well, for an American, at least.

The clearest way to describe Istanbul is a city encapsulated by its nearly seamless mixing of the ancient and the modern.

The Grand Bazaar, an ancient space for local merchants, is now flooded with locals peddling knockoff soccer jerseys, sneakers, handbags — most of western, Milanese and Parisian origin.

A modern, European tram flows throughout the city, stopping less than five minutes from the ancient sites of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

This integration of old and new is demonstrated in the generational differences of many families. It is extremely common to see a hijab-clad mother or grandmother walking with a free-haired daughter or grandchild, despite being of the age when a hijab is required.

This phenomena goes against irrational U.S. conceptualization of Islam as oppressive or stifling towards women.

In Turkey, well, in Istanbul at least, it appears, generally, to truly be the woman’s choice how she expresses her relationship to Islam.

Outside of Istanbul, these qualities tend to be less common, as the culture retains more conservative, old fashion qualities.

Hijab

Walking in the “Old City”, Istanbul. Photo Credit: Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS

In our first day in Istanbul, we embarked on a “Culinary Walking Tour” led by a middle-aged woman of German birth and Turkish heritage.

While the food was truly incredible, it was her social commentary which carved out space in my mind.

When we first met her on the shores of Beşiktaş, she asked where we were from. She responded in an unexpected way to our admission of our Americanness.

“Oh, you’re American? I haven’t met many of you recently, you’re all so scared of us. Why?”

Leading us through a neighborhood in Beşiktaş dedicated to the sale of industrial prod- ucts, we stopped in a back-alley courtyard, which she declared was our first stop of the day.

Before sitting down, we passed a multitude of seemingly-stray dogs. She explained that the city of Istanbul picks up the dogs in order tag, vaccinate, and neuter them.

The dogs are then released back into the city, and are usually fed and cared for by the people in the neighborhood they occupy.

As a result, she explained, “they’re very friendly.”

She also explained that the city didn’t extend the same services to the multitude of stray cats dotting the landscape.

As we sat down, she explained the concept of a “tea guy.”

There is, in most every neighborhood, a man who’s sole profession is to deliver tea to the shop owners.

“Money never exchanges hands when I get my tea,” she said, while rifling through a pile of multicolor plastic tokens smaller than a dime. “I buy 200 of these a month, and every time I finish a cup of tea, I leave one in the dish.”

Almost immediately after she finishes her tea, her “tea guy” comes and takes the glass, with the token in it.

Despite its modernity, Istanbul retains a personal quality which seemed almost inconceivable when compared to the general impersonality of New York City.

Getting up to proceed to our next stop, she explains, “His tea is the best. It’s clear and not bitter. The tea at the next place isn’t nearly as good.”

Kadakoy Ferry, Istanbul

Kadakoy Ferry, Istanbul

“Kadakoy Port, Istanbul”

Kadakoy Port, Istanbul

Later in the day, after a multitude of stops and a 25-minute boat ride, we sat down for af- ternoon coffee in Karakoy, a neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.

Our guide explained that after living in Brooklyn for some time, she was dissatisfied with taste of our American “filter coffee,” as well as its surrounding culture. Turkish coffee and its attached culture, she argues, is inherently better, as long as you know how to partake in it.

“Sip it slowly, starting with the foam. If there’s no foam, its not a good Turkish coffee,” she said.

The grounds of a Turkish coffee concentrate at the bottom of the shot-glass-sized mug.

“We never drink the mud [grounds].”

Only after the Turkish waiter, clearly an acquaintance of hers, had left, did she lean in and whisper, “Sometimes, I like to drink the mud.”

“Coffee Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul”

Coffee Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Not only due to Turks decry the taste of American coffee, some detest the culture which surrounds it.

She explained that in Turkish culture, coffee is to be consumed in a calm state — not as a wake-up remedy.

“We don’t use it to wake up. For us, it’s the opposite,” she explained. Pointing to a older couple in the corner, she explained, “I’m sure they’ve been here for hours. Sometimes, I come here and sit for 2-3 hours.”

Thus is the oasis of calm in the chaos of the 14 million person city.

Pickle Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Pickle Shop, Kadakoy, Istanbul

Turkey, despite its position as a world power, lags behind Europe and the U.S. in its acceptance of LGBTQ rights.

Unlike many other countries with similarly large Muslim populations, homosexuality is not a prosecutable offense.

Although not technically illegal, LGBTQ peoples are not privy to special protections under law.

Thinking about it, I probably shouldn’t say Turkey lags behind the U.S. — considering LGBTQ peoples don’t have these same protections in many of our states.

Our tour leader explained that, “in Turkey, men kiss men and women kiss women (as a form of greeting.”

Lowering her voice, with no malice or judgement, she nearly whispered, “those from the other shore, would never show it in public.”

Based on the context of the of the conservation it was clear “from the other shore” was referring to those with same-sex attraction.

Despite its claims of secularity, Turkey is still a country with a 98% percent Muslim popu- lation.

Other religions exist and are free to practice, although certainly as a minority status. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the number of Jews in the country has drastically declined.

The Jews left in Turkey live almost exclusively in Istanbul, and largely in a specific neighborhood.

Growing up as a reform Jew in New York City, I’ve never really experienced the isolation this community must feel. In an attempt to connect with and understand this community, we embarked on a “Jewish Heritage Tour.”

Galata Quarter, Istanbul

Galata Quarter, Istanbul

Climbing up the hilled cobble streets of the Galata Quarter, we made our first stop at the Ashkenazi synagogue.

The street view is truly a thing to be seen. The synagogue, the site of multiple terrorist attacks, is protected with massive, daunting blast-proof doors. Walking inside, we were invited to join in the final moments of the morning prayer service.

The synagogue itself is quaint. The women of the congregation are dressed conservatively in a way highly reminiscent of a Muslim hijab.

“All of the synagogues in Turkey are orthodox,” our tour guide explains. As a result, the service is segregated — women upstairs, men downstairs.

Despite the differences, there was truly something so incredibly comforting about muttering the mourner’s kaddish with the older, non-english speaking members of the congregation.

On the way to our next stop, we passed another synagogue, which looks more like a prison than a place of worship. It’s black metal doors were adorned with relatively small Jewish stars.

In front of these doors, instead of parking spaces, were 7-8 metal poles, apparently to pre- vent car bombs. Our tour guide explains, “There were two attacks here. There was a shooting which killed about 20 people. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for that. The other one killed some people with a car bomb. Nobody claimed responsibility, but it’s assumed to have been the Palestinians.”

Jewish Photo 2

In front of a synagogue in Istanbul.

Next on the tour, we were taken to the Ahrida Synagogue.

This congregation is bewildering in a few ways.

It was founded by Jews who came from what is now-Macedonia, and the spoken language was Ladino, a combination of Hebrew and Spanish. The street view, while not as daunting as the previous synagogue, is similarly protective.

Three would-be parking spaces are blocked by metal rails. Once inside the gates, the experience gets more surreal.

The bimah (the space form which the Rabbi leads the service) is centered in the middle of the building, and the seats face it in a Rose Bowl-like manner. Along with its odd positioning, the bimah is a replication of Noah’s Ark.

When leading the service, the Rabbi climbs the ark, preaching from its highest most point. A truly baffling imagery for our westernized version of Judaism, isn’t it?

Another unique feature of the synagogue is its dual domes, which are only visible from the interior.

“The Ottomans didn’t persecute the Jews, but they made a law that Muslims were the only group who could have exterior mosques,” our guide explained. “But, this congregation wanted a dome, so they built it under a flat roof.”

As we left the synagogue, I noticed that the older Jewish man who had let us in had stopped to have a conversation with a younger woman in a hijab. They spoke for a minute or two, hugged, and went on their way.

Ahrida Synagogue, Istanbul

Ahrida Synagogue, Istanbul

Finally, we stopped at the Zulfaris Synagogue, which has been converted to a museum.

Like the Ashkenazi synagogue, this museum is equipped with massive blast proof doors. Imme- diately, we were greeted by a white-haired man offering our group little chocolates.

Despite speaking no English, he excitedly showed us around the small former-synagogue, pointing out his favorite art pieces. On our way out, he handed up numerous papers and pamphlets, smiling cheek to cheek.

Zulfaris Synagogue/Jewish Museum of Turkey, Istanbul

Zulfaris Synagogue/Jewish Museum of Turkey, Istanbul

The next day, Christmas Day, included a trip to Topkapi palace, a marvelous relic of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite being Friday, the Muslim day of worship, the place was teeming with school groups and families.

Further juxtaposing the old with the new, we continued our day with lunch at a straight-out-of Soho looking French brasserie as well as a trip to the Istanbul Modern.

Like the MoMa, the Istanbul Modern was full of well dressed college-age people as well as groups of grades schoolers. There were very view things about this museum which felt Muslim or Turkish.

The lone exception was a video that featured a woman unwrapping hijab after hijab off of her head. The model’s eyes were covered throughout the video, as she was seemingly un- able to remove the multitude of headscarves.

In the evening, we walked around Istikal street, a modern shopping area near the infa- mous, often protest-filled Taksim Square.

Oddly enough, the shopping street is swaddled with a few European consulates, as well as the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

Despite being Christmas Day, we entered the courtyard of the truly magnificent church.

As we walked in, we noticed that there was something odd about the nativity scene. Among Jesus and Mary laid tarnished life vests and children’s clothing — specifically a tiny pink Barbie t-shirt.

Below the scene a yellow, laminated piece of paper was posted, reading, “Yeni yurtlara ula(s)ma umuduyla sularimizda bo(g)ulan si(g)inmacilarin aziz ansina.”

Below that, in English, it read, “In loving memory of the refugees who died in our seas while trying to reach new homes.”

Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul

A nativity scene at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.

The next day included touring the Suleymaniye mosque as well as the Chora Church. Both are equally gorgeous, as relics of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, respectively. The tour concluded by driving up to a view point from which an arial view of the city is accessible.

Driving through Eyüp, our tour guide explained that, “this is one of the most conservative neighborhoods of Istanbul.”

Hanging Flag, Istanbul

Hanging Flag

Almost every woman was in a hijab, and many were in burqas. Unsurprisingly, we passed a massive, 3-story hanging flag featuring socially conservative President Erdogan, along with the Turkish flag.

Erdogan

Poster of President Erdogan

The Turkish people are fiercely nationalistic. We forget, Turkey is a relatively new nation, and they truly do have a lot to be proud of. Nearly every apartment building has Turkish flags of all sizes hanging out of personal windows. Big shopping streets are adorned with vertical, massive, nearly street-sweeping flags.

Turkish Flag Photo 2

Later in the day, we ventured to the Grand Bazaar, where I was sure to purchase two soccer jerseys, costing 10 liras (about $3 dollars) each. A friend of mine who spent the term studying abroad in London convinced me that I needed to find the roof of the Grand Bazaar.

After a few minutes googling and rifling through travel books, we were able to find an odd, not-so-safe stairway up to the roof which TripAdvisor declares “unsafe and structurally unstable.”

Standing on top of the Bazaar is truly magical. You look to your left, and see the sunset-soaked silhouettes of local boys playing on the roof.

You look straight and you see a view of Istanbul which reaches all the way to the water. And to your right, you see a huge Turkish flag.

Bazaar Roof

View from on top of the Grand Bazaar Roof.

Local Kids Playing, Grand Bazaar Roof, Istanbul

Local Kids Playing, Grand Bazaar Roof, Istanbul

The next morning, we woke up early, hustling to the Hagia Sophia, at Sultanahmet. Only two tram stops from our hotel, we were there for its 9 AM opening time. Spending about an hour, I marveled at the former Church/Mosque so often discussed in my 7th grade social studies class.
Simply put, the Hagia Sophia is an extremely odd place of worship. When you look up, you see two large circular Arabic inscriptions, reading “Allah” and “Muhammad,” respectively. In between the two, on the roof, is a Vatican-style painting of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus.
Interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Later in the day, we embarked on the second leg of our trip — Cappadocia. A 1-hour flight from Istanbul, Cappadocia does not exhibit the same integration of modern and ancient as Istanbul.

The small towns in this region are older, quieter, poorer, and generally less modern. Living in homes typically crafted from ancient stone, the residents of this region tend to work in farming, tourism, or the service industry, which is largely based on tourism.

People flock to Istanbul for the city life, while visitors storm Cappadocia for its natural exploits.

Cappadocia is a region known for its geology, hot air ballon rides, and archeology. The flight to Cappadocia is about an hour from Istanbul. However, flying domestically in Turkey is drastically different from flying domestically in the U.S., or flying between European Union countries.

When you arrive at the airport, you are met with security at the entrance. All of your luggage, checked and carry-on, goes through an X-ray machine, while you walk through a metal detector. It is only after that security checkpoint that you check in for your flight.

After the check-in, you go through yet another level of security, this time a little more intense, as shoes come off and laptops come out of the bag. At the discretion of the TSA-equivalent agent, certain people, often military-aged men, are instructed to produce and turn on their computers.

Once on the plane, it’s nearly identical to an American flight. However, during takeoff and touchdown, cell phones, even on airplane mode, are strictly prohibited. All of these security measures, unsurprisingly, are due to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism — a threat, which for Turks, is always present. It is this threat which is the largest deterrent for European and American tourists.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Landing in Cappadocia went without a hitch.

The region, as a whole, was a solid 20 degrees colder. The region is also comprised of spread out, basic towns. Going from Istanbul to Cappadocia is like going from New York City to Alaska.

When driving through Cappadocia, everything looks grey. Due to corruption issues and a lack of economic development, there are a multitude of half-built, abandoned buildings. Other buildings are falling part but still occupied. Most still have Turkish flags hanging proudly.

Another view of Cappadocia.

Another view of Cappadocia.

The next morning, we were able to tour the region and its geological and archeological features.
Marked by cone-shaped rock formations, the region is mystifying. Everywhere you look, there are “cave homes” built in the side of mountains. These homes bellowed to the Chris- tians during their times of persecution.
Along with these homes, are hidden Churches, complete with remarkably preserved paintings of Jesus, the virgin Mary, and other scenes from scripture.
At some Churches, those found by the Muslim Ottomans, the faces of these figures are slashed through and no longer recognizable. The rest of their bodies, however, remains intact. The views in the region are incredible, and like nothing else on Earth.
Testifying to its other- worldly quality is the fact that George Lucas originally intended to shoot utilize Cappadocia as a location for Star Wars (he ended up shooting it in Tunisia).
Rock Formations, Cappadocia

Rock Formations, Cappadocia

We were awoken at 5:00 AM the next morning. We huddled into a van, and drove about 20 minutes. Getting out of the van, we were offered snacks and coffee, all the while nervously checking the weather conditions of the region.

After about 45 minutes, we were quickly ushered back into the van, and driven to a field about 25 minutes away. We waited, as we watched the sunrise-swept sky fill with a horde of misshapen silhouettes.

After 10 minutes, we were in the air, in a hot air balloon, looking down on Cappadocia. Never in my life, have I ever experienced anything so terrifying and breathtaking.

Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

I’m a tall guy, so the railing of the balloon went only about halfway up my chest. Ignoring the freezing cold temperatures and my seemingly repressed fear of heights, I gawked at the changing views.

I saw a balloon silhouette-marked sun- rise. I looked down on the ancient towns of Cappadocia. I gazed upon the contemporary towns of the region. Our balloon pilot took us down into a valley, only to bring us back up for the stunning views. After the 45 minute flight, we rushed back to our hotel in order to make our flight back to Istanbul.

View from Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

View from Hot Air Balloon, Cappadocia

Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable weather of Cappadocia, we were delayed at an amenity-free airport for about 7 hours.

Eventually, our flight got us to Istanbul, despite the windy and rainy conditions. We spent the next day, our last day, back in Kadakoy, the shopping area on the Asia side.

After a few hours purchasing food products and trinkets, we passed back to our hotel. Heading back to our hotel for the final time, we traveled past a police station.

As we walked by 3-4 riot vehicles pulled out of the driveway. These menacing vehicles were equipped with a large battering ram looking instrument and some type of gun (either water, gas, or bullet-based) on the roof. Despite Turkey’s democratic state, these vehicles were a reminder of the threats Turkey faces, as well as the somewhat repressive nature of the government.

During our 10-day trip to Turkey, I believe there were two or three bombings in Istanbul. The Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan (TAK) set off a bomb at Sabiha Gokcen airport, killing one. Despite this bombing and those like it, the city does not shut down, as business continues as usual.

Truly, I’m not sure Istanbul, a city of nearly 20 million people could shut down.

In mid-January, about two weeks after I returned to the US, I was appalled and shocked to read of the deadly bombing at Sultanahmet which killed 10 people.

For those who are unaware, Sultanahmet is the neighborhood which both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia call home. Despite being a tourist neighborhood, it is also the heart of Istanbul’s old city. This was a district which we frequented often throughout our trip. This was a district we frequented four times through this trip, and one where I felt incredibly safe.

Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul two weeks before a ISIS suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists there in a bombing.

Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul two weeks before a ISIS suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists there in a bombing.

As a Jew, I have no spiritual connection to the Muslim faith. Some would argue I should have an antagonistic relationship with the religion.

However, there was something truly magical and bewildering about the hearing the call to prayer at Sultanahmet. It was our first day, and I was jet-lagged beyond belief. When we stopped at Sultanahmet right at sundown, we looked behind us and saw the Hagia Sophia.

We looked forward and saw the Blue Mosque. The call to prayer played from both locations, almost in a dueling nature. They were not in sync, but rather one echoed the other. This moment was one of a serenity. This neighborhood was somewhat of a home base on this trip, and a place where we could feel safe and grounded.

The citizens of Istanbul, specifically of this neighborhood, had unfairly been robbed of their sense of serenity and peace.

And so was I.

All photos taken by Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Why Desert Storm Was The West’s Most Devastating Victory

Francis Fukuyama infamously penned his 1989 essay “The End of History?”, and expanded it into a full book in 1992 “The End of History and the Last Man”.

Very broadly speaking, Fukuyama argued a Hegelian interpretation of history, in which the ending political order would be some variation of liberal democracy.

Western liberalism had just triumphed over the Soviet defense system in Eastern Europe, without firing a shot (though with the blessing of Mikhail Gorbachev).

On Christmas Day of 1991, the last bastion of Soviet political ideology receded into the “dustbin of history”.

The political and ideological victory was complete, and even a demonstration of military victory was completed on February 28th of 1991, with the tidy defeat of the Soviet style Iraqi Military.

While I don’t intend to add my voice to the two decades of dog piling on Mr. Fukuyama, as I at the very least respect the man and lack the requisite qualification to competently critique his early work, the last triumph is an example of both unjustified and dangerous Western triumphalism.

The relative ease of the Gulf War, and the false equivocation between Soviet Forces and Iraqi forces, has made western policy makers arrogant, and can lead to chasing “easy wars” that are anything but easy.

American jets waiting for their next mission during Operation Desert Storm. Photo Credit: Walter/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

American jets waiting for their next mission during Operation Desert Storm. Photo Credit: Walter/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Operation Desert Storm was a flawless execution of the doctrine of AirLand Battle (ALB).

Put over simply, ALB relies on utilization of air forces on a tactical level, special forces in the deep battle space, and a counter blitz composed of armored and mechanized units, in order to both forestall reserve units, and deplete the momentum of the breeching force.

This would negate the overwhelming superiority of Warsaw Pact forces, and resulted in the Pentagon estimating for the first time that NATO might be able to win a land war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact.

The defeat of the Iraqi Military then, was heralded by many as a proof of concept, and that Warsaw Pact forces had been overestimated.

After all, Iraqi battalions equipped with BMPs, T-55s, and T-72s melted in the face of Abrams, Challengers, AMX-30s, TOWs, Hellfires, Mavericks, Paveways, and the rest of the menagerie designed to defend Europe against a Soviet fueled onslaught.

This was all accomplished with great speed, and few casualties.

Western military superiority should not be taken for granted however.

First, it should be noted that Coalition Forces were: more numerous, better trained, and had a much better developed doctrine in the way of ALB.

These are all qualities that would not have been shared by Warsaw Pact forces. What the Iraqis did share with the Warsaw Pact was equipment, to an extent.

Saddam intentionally kept the Iraqi Air Force weak, for fear of an Air Force sponsored coup. As a result, pilots of Iraqi’s most valuable air superiority fighters, their MiG-29s, proved ineffective against Coalition aircraft.

This is epitomized in one instance in “an early engagement in which a MiG-29 pilot shot down his wingman and then flew his own aircraft into the ground some 30 seconds later”.

Furthermore, despite having the 6th largest air force in the world at the time, less than half of Iraq’s aircraft were third or fourth generation aircraft, leaving the Iraqi Air Force both incompetent and technologically outpaced in comparison to Coalition forces.

The situation on the ground was much the same for the Iraqi Army. Top of the line Soviet armor, then and to this day, out range their NATO peers due to the utilization of Anti Tank Missiles fired from the gun barrel, like the 9M119 Svir.

The Soviet Union was also one of the first pioneers of Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), and used it extensively.

American military personnel during Operation Desert Storm. Photo Credit: Walter/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

American military personnel during Operation Desert Storm. Photo Credit: Walter/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

An often copy and pasted, but thus far elusive, article purportedly in “Jane’s International Defense Review” by Richard M. Ogorkiewicz and entitled “Impenetrable Russian Tank Armour Stands Up to Examinination”, claims that tests conducted on Soviet T-72s outfitted with Kontakt 5 ERA were able to defeat anti-tank munitions available to NATO in the 1980s when Kontakt 5 would be top of the line ERA.

I cannot find the original article, if it exists, and the results may be dubious even if it does. In any case, top of the line Soviet armor would have been highly impressive in combat against NATO units in both firepower and protection.

The Iraqi Army however, did not have top of the line Soviet armor. Much like the Iraqi Air Force, the Iraqi Army’s armor was a mishmash of old and new, and with terrible training. An infamous report of an engagement between a single American M1A1 and three Iraqi “Asad Babil” T-72s recounts the Iraqi tanks ambushing the Abrams.

The first two fired high explosive rounds, ill suited for fighting armor, and the final engaging with a sabot round.

All three were destroyed, including the last tank being killed through a sand dune. Iraqi’s tank force, in addition to being unaware of what types of rounds to use against modern main battle tanks, was partially composed of somewhere in the range of 3,000 T-54s and its derivatives, as well as 1,500 T-62s.

The Iraqis also had around 1,000 T-72Ms imported from Poland. T-72Ms were a variant of the Soviet main battle tank designed for export, and to be inferior to their Soviet counterparts.

Media coverage of Operation Desert Storm was near around the clock and totally changed the way people looked at war. Photo Credit: Daniel Oines/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Media coverage of Operation Desert Storm was near around the clock and totally changed the way people looked at war. Photo Credit: Daniel Oines/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Dubbed by Viktor Suvorov as “monkey models” in his 1982 book “Inside the Soviet Army”, the Soviet Union exported these simpler tanks to its allies, and would be mass produced for usage by the Soviet Union itself should a large scale war break out and last for more than a few weeks.

As a result of these simplifications, monkey models: do not have stabilized guns, cannot fire anti-tank missiles, lack composite armor, lack NBC protection systems, have inferior radio and optical equipment, and exclusively manual turret traversal, among other simplifications.

There is also some merit to the claim that domestically produced “Saddam” and “Asad Babil” T-72s were further downgrades of the T-72M, though this claim is contested.

As a result of all of these factors, we can conclude that the Iraqi Military was ill equipped and ill trained to engage Coalition forces who consistently outgunned and outclassed them.

But this is not representative of the quality of competent usage of technologically relevant Soviet equipment.

Why then does the myth of Western invincibility exist?

In particular the American M1A2 Abrams is susceptible to this myth. The hulking tank, weighing 70 tons, can only be airlifted one at a time by a handful of aircraft in the US arsenal, which makes rapid reaction near impossible.

This is all worth it though, because its impervious to incompetent Iraqi tank crews and insurgents with RPG-7s, thanks to depleted uranium armor, right?

The only variant of the M1 Abrams used by the Saudi Army is the M1A2, seen here cooked off by a Houthi ATGM:

The ATGM in question is likely a variant of the 9M133 Konkurs, based on the infrared bulb on the back of the warhead. Granted, it appears that this Saudi Abrams was not utilizing any kind of appliqué armor, but an $8 million vehicle was destroyed by a Soviet era ATGM all the same.

Perhaps then, Western policy makers should not give in to the attractive vision of an easy war? Perhaps planners should not presume full spectrum dominance when charting out plans for the defense of the Baltic states, Taiwan, or Seoul?

Perhaps being humble in our capabilities, and meticulously planning alongside friends, the hopefully infrequent and necessary wars we fight is a better use of our blood and treasure than chasing “easy wars”?

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Bryan Dourrough/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

I Traveled Around Europe And Took Lots Of Selfies With People Making Out In The Background

When I studied abroad in Prague from February to June 2015, I spent a lot of time exploring parks and green spaces.

I also quickly noticed I was one of the only people walking along without some sort of dog or lover companion.

For people who don’t often make eye contact with strangers, Czech people have off-the-charts PDA.

I thought this was stunning and hilarious so I decided to take advantage of it through a photo series. Most of the photos are from Prague in the daytime, and I expanded as I traveled to other cities across Europe.

When I saw people locking lips on the street, I would snap quick selfies. I challenged myself to make sure the people in the picture didn’t know I was taking it, which was never really much of a challenge at all:

Prague:

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I found these two making out on the sidewalk as I was on my way to meet friends in downtown Prague.

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Objects are closer than they appear.

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Just about all of these were more than quick pecks – I had to have the time to notice the pair kissing, find my phone, position it and snap the picture all while they were still smooching.

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I felt like pictures in bars were kind of cheap shots, but this happened at my table so I made an exception.

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Not my best work. The three of us were the only ones in sight, and I was happy to keep my distance.

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This one was an accomplishment. Partly because I ran four miles before I took this picture, partly because it was my only horizontal find.

Madrid

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In this one, it almost looks like one person sitting on a Madrid park bench. It looked that way in person too

Italy

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These two were feeling the heat on a balmy June afternoon in Italy. Really, what better way to pass the time between train strikes?

Poland

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Krakow, Poland, is surrounded by an outstanding green belt. These two took full advantage of it.

Have a funny or interesting story to tell? Send us an email to editor@risenews.net.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

“SAVE OUR SISTERS”: The Nuns At This Miami Shores Catholic School Are Leaving After 35 Years, And People Are Really Mad About It

MIAMI SHORES, FL- St. Rose of Lima Catholic School is a small Pre K-8 school that has been one of the most important bedrock institutions in this northern Miami suburb since it was started in 1951.

And since the start, the school has been staffed and led by nuns.

For the first 30 years, Adrian Dominican Sisters led the school until the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) took over in 1981.

The IHM has supplied the school of roughly 500 with a handful of teachers and a principal since the first year of the Reagan administration, while the rest of the teaching and administration jobs were filled by lay people- some of whom are non Catholics.

All of this changed last Thursday when the school announced that the IHM sisters would not be returning for another year due to the lack of women religious it had to support its mission there.

In a letter, St. Rose’s Principal Sister Bernadette Keane explained to parents why the decision was made:

“Dear Parents, it is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you as this letter informs you that our community, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, finds it necessary to begin the process of withdrawal from St. Rose of Lima School and Convent as of June, 2016,” the letter reads in part. “For 170 years our Congregation has been faithful to the mission of Catholic education in our Catholic schools. However, at this time we do not have the number of sisters needed to staff the schools we are presently serving.”

Keane went on to thank the St. Rose community for the past 35 years of service.

The reaction was met with anger and outrage by many in the St. Rose community.

A Facebook page called Show your Support for our St Rose IHM Sisters was launched and an online petition designed to keep the nuns at the school is also circulating.

Many parents don’t believe the letter and think that the nuns are being forced out by the Parish Priest, Father Pedro Corces.

Many parents don’t believe the letter and think that the nuns are being forced out by the Parish Priest, Father Pedro Corces.

Salvador Barreiros wanted his kids to go to St. Rose so badly, that he and his wife moved close to the school shortly before the birth of their first child.

Now he has two children at the school and jokes about the potential of his newborn going there as well, “St. Rose may have me for another 14 years.”

READ MORE: Authorities Investigating Potential Criminal Wrongdoing In Miami Shores Charter School Scandal

But Barreiros, the Treasurer of the Home and School Board was so angered by the decision that he launched the Facebook page in support of the nuns and the petition calling for the Archdiocese of Miami to do “everything possible to keep the IHM Sisters at St Rose School in Miami Shores.”

According to Barreiros, he went to Sister Keane shortly after receiving the letter and asked her for more clarification about what took place. “Talk to your Pastor,” Keane reportedly told Barreiros and so the concerned dad did just that.

IMG_0166

St. Rose of Lima in Miami Shores. Photo Credit: RISE NEWS.

According to Barreiros, Corces said that the IHM was a dying order and that he wanted a lay person to lead the school moving forward.

Corces did not respond to an interview request from RISE NEWS.

In an phone interview with RISE NEWS, Sister Marie Roseanne Bonfini, the Director of IHM Information Services at the order’s Motherhouse in Immaculata, PA said that she didn’t know the specifics for why the nuns at St. Rose were withdrawing but that they will be gladly used in other roles across their ministry.

Bonfini said that the IHM would never have accepted a mission if it couldn’t promise a long-term commitment to the community and that there are many reasons why withdrawal happens- including a lack of qualified personnel and when the Parish Priest decides to not renew a contract with the order.

The IHM nuns at St. Rose are basically contract workers that serve the Church and stay as long as the Parish Priest wants them to.

The IHM nuns at St. Rose are basically contract workers that serve the Church and stay as long as the Parish Priest wants them to.

Bonfini and the other nuns at the Motherhouse had never seen a copy of the letter Sister Keane sent home to the parents last week announcing the withdrawal, until RISE NEWS supplied them with it.

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It is also not clear whether the Motherhouse was aware of the decision in advance.

However, Bonfini and other IHM nuns were aware of the anger and sadness of the St. Rose community displayed online in the aftermath of the decision.

“I understand that the people are upset,” Bonfini said. “We just hope that this can be resolved peacefully.”

Photo Credit: RISE NEWS

Photo Credit: RISE NEWS

While the actual cause of the St. Rose dispute is hotly disputed, there is undoubtedly a real crisis facing the very future of nuns in the United States because not enough young women are joining their ranks.

According to the Washington Post, there were only 56,000 nuns left in the United States in 2013, down from the peak of women religious of 180,000 in 1965.

According to Bonfini, the IHM has 750 sisters serving around the world, including the six currently living at the St. Rose convent.

IHM is withdrawing from three other schools this year due to a lack of nuns available to serve at those schools.

Jai Koch has been a parent at St. Rose for the past six years. She is also the Vice President of the Home and School Board.

Source: The Washington Post

Graphic produced by RISE NEWS. Information Source: The Washington Post

Koch said that she believed that the nuns are in good physical shape, vibrant and could potentially stay at St. Rose for another 10 years without much difficulty.

“Sister Bernadette [Keane] spends every free moment with the kids,” She’s a constant presence for the kids. There’s no way to replace her and for what she means for the kids.”

Koch told RISE NEWS that she believed that the nuns had to take the high road and not smear anyone, which is why the letter was sent out.

Many of the comments on the page have called into question the motives of Corces and the Archdiocese of Miami.

“The priest is temporary,” Meike Katrin Espinosa wrote on the pro-nun Facebook page. “We are permanent.”

“The priest is temporary,” Meike Katrin Espinosa wrote on the pro-nun Facebook page. “We are permanent. The nuns are a blessing to our community, that’s why we choose to live here in Miami Shores.”

“It’s a shame our Pastor doesn’t have the appreciation for the Sisters like the parishioners do,” Lawrence Zigmont, a longtime St. Rose parishioner and the husband of the school’s Assistant Principal wrote.

The Archdiocese of Miami stood by the decision, which it said was made by IHM.

“Everyone is upset when change occurs, but the spirit and the memories will continue,” Mary Ross, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese said in a phone conversation. “The Pastor will decide who the next principal is going to be.”

If you want to sign the petition in support of the IHM sisters staying at St. Rose, you can do so by visiting this link: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keep-our-ihm-sisters-at-st-rose

Public Disclosure: Ross, The Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman tried to dissuade RISE NEWS from writing this piece and asked about whether the author viewed the fact that he graduated from St. Rose as a conflict of interest.

No, he doesn’t.

But for the sake of transparency and fairness, it is important for our audience to know that he attended St. Rose from 2002 until he graduated in 2007.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Facebook/ Show Your Support For Our St. Rose Sisters

“America’s Already Great”: What It’s Like To Be Roughed Up By Trump Thugs

Three weeks out from the first votes of the 2016 presidential election, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is better-positioned than ever to win his party’s nomination.

Dismissed as little more than a sideshow just a few months ago, the long-predicted Trump collapse has failed to materialize, and political professionals increasingly view Trump as a possible, perhaps even likely, general election candidate.

The magnate attributes his success to support from a “silent majority,” but Trump backers are neither.

Earlier this week, fed up with Trump’s hateful rhetoric, I traveled to Lowell, MA to protest at a Trump rally.

What I saw horrified me. The crowd packed into the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell resembled nothing so much as a physical manifestation of blinding rage.

Generally speaking, people waiting to enter a political rally are happy and excited, eager to see their favorite candidate. But from the moment I encountered them, Trump supporters seemed to wear a permanent scowl, trading dim-witted barbs about “libtards” and other enemies.

Countless numbers wore shirts attacking Hillary Clinton, often reading “Hillary for Prison 2016.”

Once inside, as we waited for the rally to begin, an announcement played over the PA asking rally attendees to refrain from attacking people who disagreed with Trump. Folks around me laughed menacingly, and remarked that the Trump campaign was asking too much.

But I had no idea what I was in for when a few minutes into Trump’s rambling speech, I held up a sign reading “America’s Already Great.”

It didn’t take long for the glowering people around me to take issue with my sign. A nasal voice behind me told me to put down my sign or else.

I turned to ask the voice’s source, a balding, fat man older than my father, if he disagreed with my sign—which again, contended that America is already a great country.

“You think America’s not great?” I asked. “You think I should hurt you?” he responded.

WATCH: Trump supporters rip up sign of Kiernan Majerus-Collins and friend at Lowell, MA rally.

Things went downhill from there.

Another man, who could have been the goatee-clad brother of my first critic, told me “You’re at a Trump rally? Ditch those,” referring to my sign. “Do you disagree with this?” I shot back. “Yeah. Ditch ’em,” he responded, and at that moment, both of the men grabbed for my sign and tore it up.

The crowd around me began to loudly call for my removal, which was shortly accomplished (although not before the first man hit me on the head and tried to grab me).

The next day, a video of the encounter shot by a friend of mine who’d accompanied me, went viral, and in the days since I’ve become even more familiar with the special brand of thuggery and intimidation Trump’s supporters practice.

Read More: Trump People- A RISE Reporter Spends The Day At An Alabama Donald Rally With His Liberal Girlfriend And Mexican Friend

My family and I received death threats, and messages poured in calling me every name in the book (although typically, the names were misspelled).

If this was an isolated incident, it would be awful, but it wouldn’t have any greater meaning.

But I’m sad to say my experience is part of a pattern.

Trump is running a campaign fueled by the anger of poorly educated, racist white people, the kind of people who love to criticize “PC culture,” but became offended to the point of violence when I held a sign asserting that ours is a great country.

And as Trump soars in the polls, these people are becoming emboldened. The billionaire blowhard has convinced millions of Americans that not only is their bigoted hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and others justified, but that it is the key to making America “great again,” as if it wasn’t great already.

It’s possible that Trump’s fall, so long awaited, will finally come. I certainly hope so. But Trump’s political demise will not undo the damage he has done to our politics, or to America’s reputation in the world.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Kiernan Majerus-Collins/ Facebook

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