Posts Tagged ‘Civil Disobedience’

The Government Hates Young Workers, Especially Women

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
LANSING, MI - MARCH 17:  Michigan Democratic P...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I had no idea the topic of unpaid internships was so contentious when I first blogged about it on Let’s Level the Playing Field by Ruining Everyone’s Chances, as it elicited vociferous and emotional responses from readers and fellow arts bloggers alike. I assumed it was clear that by forcing arts organizations to pay set wages for specific periods of time, it would reduce the availability of internships and ultimately hurt the pool of hopeful interns trying to get their foot in the door. In the already-competitive world of the arts, depriving interns of choices just makes it that much more difficult to get necessary experience and resume-building opportunities.

Since then, the unpaid internship debate has been making some headlines, with pro and con opinions abounding online.

Wall Street Journal, “War on Interns: Making It Illegal to Work for Free”

While the Department of Labor may insist the world owes these kids a living, the truth is that many young workers are willing to trade free labor for a chance to demonstrate their skills and build a resume for the next job. Especially in a bad labor market, the choice college students face may be to work without pay, or hang by the beach.

This isn’t exploiting young people. It’s letting young people exploit an opportunity.

The Washington Examiner, “Obama’s war on internships (and female employment)

Pricing interns out of the market proves especially salient for women, who make up 76 percent of the internship pool nationwide, according to the American Psychological Association. When opportunities evaporate for would-be unpaid interns, women will be the hardest hit.

The Future Majority “Unpaid Internships Bridge on Slave Labor

Despite the overall con opinion, even Future Majority writer says,

I’ll admit I did unpaid internships while in college full time and working part time and many of the innovative online experiments I run in campaigns I am only able to do with the support of a staff of unpaid internships because campaigns don’t want to pay their staff to try new things. So I rely very heavily on interns both for support staff and for new and sometimes crazy ideas.

To be clear, it appears the administration is only cracking down on unpaid internships with for-profit organizations, which seems it would not greatly affect non-profit arts organizations, but who knows what the future holds.

The major flaw in thinking with those who want to crack down on unpaid internships is they believe organizations will replace all previous unpaid job opportunities with paid opportunities and pull from the same pool of unexperienced workers. Like it or not, most internships often include a component of “real” work in addition to the educational experience that is supposed to be provided, and employers offering internships are likely to be more discriminating about the prior experience of applicants when they have to pay for it. Furthermore, it seems odd to have to pay a student to give them an education – this model is unlike any educational model I’ve seen – which all require payment by the student for their learning experience (either through tuition or taxpayer support).

The most amusing response I read on the topic shed light on the ultimate hypocrisy of our government in this debate. From Donald Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek:

It’s unclear, however, why the same young people whom the President judges to be unfit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at for-profit firms are fit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at not-for-profit organizations.  So I urge this administration, which is ever-vigilant at protecting us from our irrational and helpless selves, also to prohibit young people from working as unpaid interns at not-for-profit outfits – such as political campaigns.

Indeed, Mr. Obama should not only apologize to the thousands of young, unpaid volunteers whom he exploited in 2008 for his own profit – namely, to win his election to the highest pulpit in the land – he should also give to each and every one of them back pay (with interest) for their efforts on his behalf.

The bottom line in this entire debate is that people should be free to work for free if they want to. End of story.  The argument that young people are too stupid to make the decision to work for free and are being exploited because they are afraid to call out evil would-be employers is just laughable! I’m assuming they are equally free to quit the job? The argument that only rich kids can afford to work for free is equally comical.

Again, increasing the wage of internships will not increase their availability and many people need to work for free to gain experience. If someone truly cannot afford to work for free, their path may be longer and more indirect or they may need to work two jobs (one paid in an unrelated field and one unpaid) in order to gain experience. The reality is, an unpaid internship is simply a formalized extension of the oldest business and networking advice, “Do people favors for free.” This puts you on their radar, shows you are a go-getter, and makes you far more likely to get a paid position when it becomes available.

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The Day Bureaucracy Stopped the Music

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
Model of the Pantheon as originaly built
Image via Wikipedia

First off, I need to introduce everyone to a blog they should bookmark right away, The Collaborative Piano blog by acclaimed accompanist and faculty member at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. He posts tons of interesting information, links, and great performances from YouTube. Just take a peek at his series 31 Days to Better Practicing which would no doubt be applicable to working artists in any field.

He recently posted this YouTube video of a Russian sextet and choir performing Vivaldi at the Pantheon in Rome. It is a nice performance until about 5 minutes in when a female employee of the Pantheon stops another movement from beginning and announces, “The Pantheon is about to close. Please move towards the exit. The concert is over, because today the Pantheon closes at six o’clock.”

According to The Guardian, trade union rules under strict enforcement were to blame for ending the concert early despite audience protests and urges for the performers to continue playing. The whole affair was caught on video and is uncomfortable to watch.

However, this should not come as a major shock to those familiar with how Italy runs their cultural institutions and businesses. While spending a summer studying and performing in the city of Lucca, I announced to the gelato shop next to the concert venue I would be performing in that they could expect a large influx of customers after the event. The proprietor thanked me for the information, and told me he would be sure to close early so he would not have to work too late. I was flabbergasted. Most business owners look forward to making some extra cash. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is an opportunity cost to working for those who enjoy their leisure time more than most – but I was still surprised at this one.

Last year, when the Italian culture minister wished to improve the image and efficiency of Italian cultural sites, she brought on Mario Resca, who had previously introduced the McDonald’s franchise to Italy and could bring his private sector experience to the public sector. Arts administrators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Louvre protested and signed petitions against Mr. Resca’s appointment, fearing he would commodify the arts in Italy. By all means, stifling bureaucracy will do far more good.

I think there is a middle ground between McPompeii and attempting to improve audience enjoyment at events and cultural sites. As Mr. Resca noted,

As a client of the Italian cultural system I am frustrated…the museum attendants don’t smile, they are depressed.  Some of the museums are not physically clean.  There is no signage, there is no communication…  (Rocca, 2009)

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Legacy of Creative Protest

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Photo by ktylerconkToday the internet is a-buzz about the display of civil disobedience from Representative Joe Wilson during President Obama’s speech. Many people think it was uncivil disobedience. While I will admit rules of protocol are on their side, the history of Presidential speeches is not exactly awash with civility!

However, more interestingly, I today discovered the House of Representatives has rules of decorum which expressly forbid exclaiming that the President is a liar. Who knew? I suppose there are logical reasons for this, considering if such exclamations were permitted, every speech would likely be presented against a cacophony of insults.

But I think Wilson’s gaffe was one of bad timing, not necessarily bad taste. Surely he thought others would join in, and if they had, his individual words would have been incomprehensible, much like in this clip from 2005.

I love moments like this in a democracy. They make me hungry for more information, history, and thoughts from great thinkers and leaders of the past. I came across this incredible quote, and am inspired to revisit Thoreau today,

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. - Martin Luther King, JrAutobiography

Writers, artists, and musicians have long contributed to the “legacy of creative protest” by bringing forth works that carry messages of dissent against those abusing power. I find this tradition to be a fascinating mix of active and passive protest. Active, because creating and disseminating such messages is dynamic, requiring energy, thought, and passion. Passive, because such works are often voluntarily viewed and shared amongst like-minded groups of people hoping to spread their influence via peaceful, enlightened means.

The article Rebel yells: A protest music mixtape discusses this idea, and provides a comprehensive view of relatively contemporary songs of dissent dating from the Bush administration and earlier,

A lengthy list of musicians has bashed Bush and his policies. The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines ripped him from a London concert stage in 2003. Last summer, Bruce Springsteen penned a New York Times op-ed that, without naming the president, all but demanded his defeat. Springsteen then joined the Chicks, R.E.M., James Taylor and assorted left-leaning performers on a “Vote For Change” concert tour. And a week before last November’s U.S. election, Eminem released an anti-Bush video for his song Mosh; it showed a horde of disaffected youth storming the White House. Jagger denied a direct Bush connection soon after the story appeared online, but said, “[Sweet Neo Con] is certainly very critical of certain policies of the administration, but so what! Lots of people are critical.”

Protest music has existed since the first time a caveman got short-changed on mammoth soup by the campfire. For millennia since, people have used the power of song to express their disagreement with political ideas, slavery, militarism, economic oppression and myriad social concerns.

The entire article is a fantastic compilation, and I’m thinking of downloading all these songs to my iTunes as background music to my reading of Thoreau today.

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