Understanding the Iranian Hijab Protests

In recent days, Iran has been gripped by a series of mass protests that have gained international attention. The protests, largely led by women, are somewhat unprecedented. While both protest and women’s participation in protest in Iran are not new, the protests of the past two weeks are remarkable as the first of such scale specifically directed by Iranian women and centered on women’s civil rights in the country.1

The protests began in response to revelations that an Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, had died in custody of the nation’s “morality police,” an arm of the Iranian government that is responsible for enforcing religious law in the country. Amini had been arrested for refusing to wear a hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women to conceal their hair. The precise circumstances of Amini’s death are unclear. The Iranian government maintains that she died of a heart attack while in coma at a hospital in the capital city of Tehran, but protesters and critics argue that she was in a coma as a result of beatings and torture endured while in police custody.2

Understanding the Iranian Regime

In 1979, Iran experienced a revolution which installed Islamic religious leaders as the head of its government supported by opposition to Western interference in the country. The Iranian theocracy (a religious government) is an authoritarian regime led by a council of religious elders headed by the supreme leader. The supreme leader has ultimate authority over the military of Iran as well as the civilian government. Under Iran’s constitution, there is a legislature, a court system, and a president, but the supreme leader overrides all of those government bodies and is responsible for appointing most of the country’s leadership. The supreme leader holds office for life, with the current one, Ali Khamenei, having been in power since 1989.3

Iran has a culture that dates back to ancient Persia and to this day is among the most powerful nations in the Middle East. Unlike many of its neighbors where the majority religion is Sunni Islam, Iran’s dominant religion is Shia Islam, a distinct sect. Despite the theocratic government enforcing religious laws on Iranian society, Iran is actually among the most developed and cosmopolitan nations in the region and its people maintain a complex relationship with Western culture and influences. Throughout the regime’s history, the clash of theocratic rule with secular (non-religious) interests and a desire for reform in the country has led to unrest and political turmoil. Nevertheless, the theocratic government has managed to maintain its control.4

The U.S. Response to the Iranian Protests

Protests have been spreading and growing in size across Iran, a common sight being that of women burning their hijabs, dancing in the streets, and calling for freedom and the death of the supreme leader. The government has responded severely. Journalists reporting on the hijab protests have been jailed, hundreds of Iranian women have been beaten in the streets and arrested, and at least 40 people have been killed5.

The last major period of unrest in Iran occurred in 2009. At the time, President Barack Obama’s administration (in which now-President Joe Biden served as vice president) was hesitant to publicly support the protests. However, the current Biden administration has made its support clear following a speech given by President Biden to the United Nations. The United States has since imposed sanctions on members of Iran’s morality police and is making efforts to provide satellite and internet services to Iranian citizens following a government shutdown of the country’s telecommunications.6

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe it is the obligation of the United States to provide support to the Iranian protesters?
  2. Should the United States involve itself in the internal affairs of any country? What kinds of events, if any, should necessitate U.S. involvement?
  3. Given the United States’ involvement in the Russia-Ukraine War and increasing tensions with China, do you feel the United States runs any risk of creating additional conflict by publicly supporting the Iranian protesters? Why or why not? What options should or should not be used by the United States in Iran?
  4. In 2009, the Obama administration avoided public support for protesters in part because President Obama was pursuing a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran (known as the Iran nuclear deal) and in part because the administration feared that support for the protesters would actually undermine their cause, as the regime could more easily point to Western interference as the real motive behind the unrest. The Iran nuclear deal was officially ended by President Donald Trump and there is little chance of it being revived. Do you feel that there is still a risk for the protesters in receiving the Biden administration’s support? Why or why not?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Ozan Köse/AFP/Getty Images
[1] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/26/world/middleeast/women-iran-protests-hijab.html
[2] Al-Jazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/program/between-us/2022/9/27/iran-protests-mahsa-aminis-death
[3] PBS: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tehran/inside/govt.html
[4] Yale University: https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/persian-paradox-iran-much-more-modern-you-think
[5] United Nations: https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/09/1128111#:~:text=She%20fell%20into%20a%20coma,circumstances%20surrounding%20Ms.%20Amini’s%20death.
[6] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/26/us/politics/biden-iran-protesters.html

 

The Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

AP Photo/Steve HelberOn August 29, 2022, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency for Jackson, the state capital, which was in the midst of an ongoing water crisis.1 Heavy rainfall caused the Pearl River and Ross Barnett Reservoir to flood, which in turn overwhelmed two water treatment plants that were already strained.2 Low water pressure and contamination left the city of 150,000 people—the largest in the state—without safe, reliable running water.3

The lack of pressure cut off thousands of homes from the city’s water supply.4 No water flowed from faucets, showers, or toilets. Residents of Jackson who did have pressure found their water to be unusable and unsafe. “The water that’s coming out of my kitchen sink smells like fresh sewage,” said Carey Wooten, who lives in Jackson with her two children. “As soon as you turn it on, it hits you right in the face. It’s horrible.”The Mississippi State Department of Health issued a boil-water notice, advising residents to not use their tap water. Lines stretched for blocks as residents waited to receive limited supplies of bottled water across the city.6

Graphic by Bethany Atkinson

Only a Matter of Time

The August flooding didn’t create the water crisis in Jackson. Instead, it exacerbated systemic problems that residents have been dealing with for years. There have been ongoing boil-water notices issued after storm events, leading to distrust by residents who feel that they are not receiving the proper services that should be guaranteed by the city.7 For years, officials have routinely warned that “pregnant people and children under five” should not drink the tap water due to elevated levels of contaminants like lead.8 Runoff from the recent flooding has only increased the contamination concerns and scope of this problem. “We’ve been going it alone for the better part of two years when it comes to the Jackson water crisis,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “I have said on multiple occasions that it’s a not a matter of if our system would fail, but a matter of when our system would fail.”9

The Role of Race in the Jackson Water Crisis

Advocates argue that structural racism is at the root of the water crisis, stretching back decades to “white flight” out of the city. “This is a deep seated, decades-long in the making kind of situation,” said Arielle King, a lawyer and environmental justice advocate. “I think the history of racial segregation and redlining in this country have deeply contributed to the environmental injustices we see right now.”10 

The population of Jackson has declined more than 20 percent in the last 40 years, a trend which started with an exodus of wealthier white people to the suburbs after the city began integrating its public schools.11 Jackson is now approximately 83 percent Black, and nearly one in four residents live at or below the federal poverty line.12

These demographic shifts have had compounding effects. White flight left Jackson with lower tax revenues, as people of higher socioeconomic status no longer contributed to the city. Less money meant fewer investments in public resources. Even though upgrades to aging, underperforming infrastructure like the city’s water treatment plants were long overdue, nothing was done to improve them.13 A total breakdown of the system was inevitable after decades of deterioration and delay. The flooding in August was the breaking point that took an already vulnerable situation and made it worse.

READ: “‘A Profound Betrayal of Trust’: Why Jackson’s Water System is Broken”

Some argue that structural racism both created this crisis and is responsible for the continued inaction by local and state governments. For example, policy experts at the centrist Brookings Institution wrote, “Jackson is a city with one of the largest shares of Black people in America, in the Blackest state in the union. Ideally, infrastructure serves as a shared foundation for economic, environmental, and public health between different neighborhoods and municipalities; however, infrastructure is often poorly maintained or intentionally overlooked in particular places, leading to a lack of access, affordability, and safety for many communities of color.14

Officials estimate that it would cost at least $1 billion to fix Jackson’s water infrastructure, with even more money needed to properly maintain it.15 Jackson cannot pay for this on its own, and the state of Mississippi has not allocated money for the repairs. Plus, the wealthy white suburbs that surround Jackson do not share a sense of urgency or obligation to help a community that isn’t theirs.16 Some have questioned if this would even be an issue if Jackson were a predominately white community, wondering just how bad things have to get for something to finally be done.

Partisanship also plays a key role, as Jackson is a heavily Democratic city in a Republican-led state. While the city blames the state for the lack of proper funding, some state leaders have criticized the Jackson city government for “mismanaging” the treatment plant for years.17  With little political willpower by the state to provide funding, Jackson is caught in a cycle of suffering.

President Joe Biden has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Jackson, and Mississippi is set to receive $429 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law, but still more is needed to repair the water system, rebuild trust, and truly solve this problem.18

Discussion Questions

  1. The water crisis in Jackson has been compared to that of Flint, Michigan, which began in 2014. Are you familiar with what happened in Flint, or have you heard of any other issues like it?
  2. Do you believe structural racism has played a role in the response to this crisis (or lack thereof)? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
  3. Do you think the state government has a responsibility to fix the water system in Jackson? How involved do you think the federal government should be, if at all?
  4. What public services do you think are most vital for a community to thrive? Should some be prioritized over others?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: AP Photo/Steve Helber
[1] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mississippi-governor-declares-state-emergency-end-jackson-water-crisis-rcna45470
[2] PBS: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/flooding-exacerbates-water-treatment-plant-crisis-in-jackson-mississippi
[3] Twitter: https://twitter.com/tatereeves/status/1564652267210407939
[4] Mississippi Today: https://mississippitoday.org/2021/03/24/why-jacksons-water-system-is-broken/
[5] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/science-race-and-ethnicity-racial-injustice-mississippi-tate-reeves-5d51e0f19e923756f99a0abc3ee0f8b9
[6] Vox: https://www.vox.com/2022/8/31/23329604/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis
[7] Mississippi Today: https://mississippitoday.org/2021/03/24/why-jacksons-water-system-is-broken/
[8] Ibid.
[9] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mississippi-governor-declares-state-emergency-end-jackson-water-crisis-rcna45470
[10] BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62783900
[11] Mississippi Today: https://mississippitoday.org/2021/03/24/why-jacksons-water-system-is-broken/
[12] Vox: https://www.vox.com/2022/8/31/23329604/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis
[13] Mississippi Today: https://mississippitoday.org/2021/03/24/why-jacksons-water-system-is-broken/
[14] Brookings Institution: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2021/03/26/in-jackson-miss-a-water-crisis-has-revealed-the-racial-costs-of-legacy-infrastructure/
[15] Mississippi Today: https://mississippitoday.org/2021/03/24/why-jacksons-water-system-is-broken/
[16] Vox: https://www.vox.com/2022/8/31/23329604/jackson-mississippi-water-crisis
[17] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/03/biden-jackson-federal-cash-00054562
[18] Ibid.

 

A Renewed Labor Movement?

The year 2022 has seen a historic surge in labor organizing and union activity. While union organizing at Starbucks and Amazon has garnered the most media attention, the labor movement has also been active on university campuses, at newspapers and other publishers, and in the high-tech industry at Google, Microsoft, Apple, and other companies. This is occurring after almost 70 years of steady union decline.1

Union Membership

Why is the Labor Movement Gaining Ground Now?

At the end of 2021, two major U.S. companies—Kellogg’s and John Deere—reached newly negotiated contracts with their unions after protracted, public disputes to bring formal strikes to a close.2 Since then, there has been significant union activity. Employees at more than 200 Starbucks locations have unionized and there have been unionization efforts at many Amazon locations, including one successful effort in Staten Island, New York.3

Starbucks Employees

This represents the most significant union activity since the 1930s.4 So, why is this occurring now? Observers offer several reasons, including the following:

  • There is growing income inequality and a widening gap between executive and worker pay. This has led to increased support for labor unions among the public at large.5
  • Many young college graduates are not finding work in the careers they envisioned, and instead are working in the service sector at businesses such as Starbucks.6
  • The high-profile presidential campaigns of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) helped inspire organizing in many sectors of U.S. life, including among unions.7
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is viewed as a major—perhaps the major—catalyst of the new labor movement. “The pandemic was the wakeup call or the catalyst that has prompted two perspectives: ‘is there another way to work and live?’ and the relationship between employers with workers,” said former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) chairman and current Georgetown Law School professor Mark Pearce. “The vulnerable workers—they were not only scared, they were pissed.”8Unionizing in Washington

WATCH: CNBC reports on efforts at unionization

Should Congress Pass Legislation to Protect Workers’ Rights to Organize?

Throughout this new labor movement, organizers have complained that companies are using underhanded, potentially illegal tactics to intimidate workers and block unionization efforts. The NLRB, which enforces laws protecting unions, issued a complaint on Friday accusing Starbucks of 29 unfair labor practices that included over 200 violations of the National Labor Relations Act just in Buffalo, New York.9 In Seattle, the NLRB says Starbucks is violating U.S. labor law by withholding pay hikes and other benefits from stores that have voted to unionize.10 The same has happened in other regions and cities around the country, including Chicago.11 The government has also alleged that Amazon has violated labor laws in several instances.12

In this context, some lawmakers are considering strengthening labor protections. One bill, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, would protect workers’ rights to strike, weaken “right-to-work” laws that currently exist in 27 states, and declare “it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership.”13

Opponents of the law, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the bill “would undermine worker rights, ensnare employers in unrelated labor disputes, disrupt the economy, and force individual Americans to pay union dues regardless of their wishes.” And the Senate Republican Policy Committee alleges that the bill would “sabotage the economic recovery just as businesses are trying to make it past the pandemic,” as well as “curb workers’ choices, threaten jobs, and increase costs on employers” by “overriding state right-to-work laws, limiting Americans’ freedom to work as independent contractors, and allowing boycotts at businesses not involved in a labor dispute.”14

READ: A summary of the PRO Act of 2021

There are also laws being considered in many states that relate to the ongoing labor movement. Some of these laws are to strengthen the protections for organized labor while others are intended to slow the growth of unions and protect employers and small businesses.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard about the new labor movement? Where have you learned about this?
  2. Do you think that income inequality is a significant problem in the United States? Why or why not?
  3. Do you support the ongoing labor movement? Why or why not?
  4. Do you think lawmakers should pass laws making it easier for workers to join a union? Why or why not?
  5. If you answered no to the question above, do you support laws that would make it more difficult for workers to join a union? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg
[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm
[2] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/john-deere-union-workers-ratify-new-deal-end-strike-rcna5967
NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/12/21/1066326419/kelloggs-union-members-ratify-a-new-contract-ending-a-nearly-3-month-strike
[3] Business Insider: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/meet-the-union-leaders-powering-a-wave-of-organizing-at-amazon-starbucks-target-and-more/ar-AA11FFU6#image=AA11FZ0w|3
CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/01/amazon-loses-effort-to-overturn-union-win-at-staten-island-facility.html
[4] WBUR: https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2022/09/05/worker-organizing-labor-day-thomas-kochan-wilma-liebman
[5] Ibid.
[6] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/28/business/college-workers-starbucks-amazon-unions.html
[7] CommonDreams.org: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/01/14/inspired-bernie-movement-starbucks-workers-gain-steam
[8] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/07/why-is-there-a-union-boom.html
[9] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/06/starbucks-accused-of-more-than-200-labor-violations-in-nlrb-complaint.html
[10] FoodManufacturing.com: https://www.foodmanufacturing.com/labor/news/22406027/labor-board-accuses-starbucks-of-pay-disparity
[11] Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-labor-board-issues-starbucks-complaints-20220819-vnbnegteu5dvtogbs2t7qo2gx4-story.html
[12] Bloomberg News: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-27/amazon-illegally-threatened-staff-labor-board-complaint-alleges?leadSource=uverify%20wall
Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/amazon-accused-violating-us-labor-law-after-union-supporters-arrests-2022-02-25/
[13] GovTrack.us: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/s420/summary
[14] U.S. Chamber of Commerce: https://www.uschamber.com/major-initiative/stop-the-pro-act#:~:text=The%20PRO%20Act%20would%20undermine,dues%20regardless%20of%20their%20wishes
Senate Republican Policy Committee: https://www.rpc.senate.gov/policy-papers/the-pro-act-bad-for-workers-bad-for-businesses

Ranked-Choice Voting: A Curiosity or Coming Reform?

In August, Democrat Mary Peltola won Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives in a special election to replace Don Young (R), who passed away in March 2022.1 Peltola defeated two Republicans, former Governor Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III. Peltola becomes the first Alaska Native person to be elected to Congress.2

This election received national attention for multiple reasons. First, Palin is a well-known figure in national politics and was the 2008 vice-presidential nominee for her party. Second, a Democrat winning in Alaska is often newsworthy. However, what most captured public attention in this special election was Alaska’s use of ranked-choice voting.

What is Ranked-Choice Voting? 

Ranked-choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates by preference. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, they are declared the winner. If no one wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. This continues until a candidate wins an outright majority.

In the Alaska special election, Peltola secured the most first-place votes (39.7 percent), but not enough to win an outright victory. Palin came in second (30.9 percent), so the first-place votes of Begich and those who had opted for a write-in candidate were eliminated. While most Begich voters ranked Palin as their second choice, enough of them put Peltola as second to put her over the 50-percent threshold.4

Should More States Adopt Ranked-Choice Voting?

Alaska is the second state to adopt ranked-choice voting; Maine also adopted the system in 2016. New York City elected to adopt ranked-choice voting in 2019.5 Several other cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, have used the system for several years.6

Advocates of ranked-choice voting argue that it will lead to less partisanship and will reduce negative campaigning and attack ads.7 Indeed, in Alaska, Palin and Peltola did not engage in much negative campaigning against each other.8

However, there are also arguments against ranked choice voting. Critics argue that ranked-choice voting is confusing and that voters are overwhelmed by the task of ranking all candidates rather than just choosing one. For example, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter: “Ranked-choice voting is a scam to rig elections. 60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion—which disenfranchises voters—a Democrat ‘won.'”9

Some critics also argue that the second-choice votes of the top candidates should count for something. In other words, in the Alaska election, people who voted for Palin or Peltola with their first-choice votes never had their second-choice votes counted.10

Advocates, who are often a mixture of centrists and far-left progressives who dislike the mainstream Democratic Party,11 also argue that ranked-choice voting might lessen the impact of dark money and corporate spending on elections. In Alaska, Palin outspent Peltola by 400 percent and Begich outspent both of them, only to come in third.12

Lawmakers in 29 states are now considering ranked-choice voting.13 Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Forward Party, argues that ”ranked choice voting ensures the most accurate allocation of delegates based on voters’ true preferences.”14 Ranked-choice voting is the central focus of the new party that Yang and others launched recently.

SEE: Is Your State Considering Ranked-Choice Voting?

In recent election cycles, voters and candidates have focused on the political and electoral process almost as much as the issues themselves. There have been arguments about voter ID laws, mail-in voting, the Electoral College, and campaign finance laws, to name just a few issues. It is possible that reforms in elections such as ranked-choice voting will continue to be prominent in U.S. political debates for some time.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe the U.S. election system functions well to represent the views of the people? Why or why not?
  2. What reforms to U.S. elections, if any, would you like to see?
  3. Do you support ranked-choice voting? Why or why not?

 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: AP Photo/Becky Bohrer
[1] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/alaska-house-results-mary-peltola-democrat-wins-sarah-palin/
[2] Alaska Public Media: https://alaskapublic.org/2022/08/31/mary-peltola-wins-alaskas-special-u-s-house-race/
[3] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/3624697-peltola-defends-ranked-choice-voting-after-defeating-palin-in-alaska/
[4] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/how-alaskas-new-voting-system-helped-deliver-historic-win-us-democrats-2022-09-01/
[5] Time: https://time.com/5718941/ranked-choice-voting/
[6] Vox: https://www.vox.com/22443775/ranked-choice-voting-explained-new-york-strategy
[7] Ibid.
[8] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/08/31/1120327126/palin-peltola-begich-alaska-special-house-election-results
[9] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2022-election/sarah-palins-election-loss-sen-tom-cotton-calls-ranked-choice-voting-s-rcna45834
[10] National Review: https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/the-problem-of-transparency-in-ranked-choice-voting/
[11] Vox: https://www.vox.com/22443775/ranked-choice-voting-explained-new-york-strategy
[12] Open Secrets: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/09/mary-peltola-beats-well-funded-republican-opponents-in-special-election-for-alasaka-house-seat
[13] Pew Research: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2021/03/12/ranked-choice-voting-gains-momentum-nationwide
[14] USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/10/02/why-ranked-choice-voting-improve-american-elections-yang-weld-column/5877731002/