I am an activist, a student of politics, a feminist, and a law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. I recently graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.
My particular area of study is the Middle East and North Africa. I have lived in Amman, Jordan and Nablus, Palestine. I have traveled in the West Bank part of Palestine, including Jerusalem, and around Jordan, as well. I have spent many months living with my family on a farm outside of Tripoli, Libya.
True friendship is libelous. True to my word, I am publishing this piece. Maybe it will reinvigorate my dead passion for blogging. Or maybe Ben’s work will, as usual, be the only thing anyone reads on here. Regardless, this sarcastic Brit never disappoints.
(Just in case you doubt our bond, here is a picture of the two of us on the top of a mountain in palestine. Clear love)
P.S. Ben, WordPress wants me to correct all your pretentious British spelling
“I Would Publish It in a Heartbeat”
The laugh was nonchalant, dismissive. The kind of laugh you give when you hear something so ridiculous that the only justifiable reaction is to be amused. It came in May 2011 when, on the steps of an apartment building in Nablus, Palestine, I said my goodbyes to one Sara Fitouri – a fiery young Coloradan who had, over the previous 3 months, become my friend, confidant and drinking partner. Having already exchanged a parting hug upstairs, away from the watchful eyes of a conservative society that wouldn’t have approved of such an embrace, I expressed a solemn desire that we not simply become two friends who never saw each other again. That we make an effort to stay in contact and meet again in the not-too-distant future. That’s when I heard the laugh. At the time I interpreted it optimistically, I believed it was a forthright and cocky assertion of Sara’s assurance that we had simply become too good friends, shared too many fun and crazy times to never see each other again. But hindsight provides an illuminating truth. Sara was determined to avoid me forevermore and that laugh was simply a rejection of my heartfelt au revoir.
You see, dear, wonderful readers, Sara abandoned me. Like a celebrity with a political cause she was more than happy to completely forget about me the moment I ceased to have any immediate impact on her life. I remained in Palestine for a further 2 years. Sara spoke of visiting but never did. “Not to worry” thought I, “I shall make this whole meet up a lot easier for her. I shall visit her home country”. And so I did. Twice. For months at a time. I found it a strange yet captivating place where my British sensibilities were assaulted with the ferocity of a drunken hillbilly at a gay wedding. Earl Grey tea seemed to be harder to locate than WMD in an illegally invaded Middle Eastern State and the locals seemed to have as much respect for environmental protection as they did for their Latino servants (though they insist on the term “employee”). I travelled far and wide through the assortment of bizarre little enclaves you call States and awaited that magical moment when Sara and I would meet again, sit around a bar room table, reminisce on the old times and see if we couldn’t finally hit that magical 21 shots mark before she passed out again in an undignified heap. Alas, Sara refused to find me wandering, lost, through the wasteland of her home nation. Her argument when presented with this fact can be simply boiled down to “You didn’t turn up exactly at my front door”. I weep for the friendship we built in that chaotic Nabulsi apartment as she so insists on eroding it with her indifference.
Not to be deterred, for there are many, many negative things about me and one of the very tamest is that I’m a stubborn idiot, I decided to search for Sara in her other home. Packing my bags with bad clothes, worse Arabic and the hope of a reunion with an old friend I picked myself up and moved to Libya. That’s right, dear reader, with Sara was refusing to move the hundred metres or so from her house to my location in Florida (I may have misjudged the scale somewhat, please understand that I’m no cartographer and, coming from a tiny island nation as I do, I’m used to things being infinitely closer to each other than is often the case across the pond) I did the only I thing I could do and relocated to sunny, post-revolution, militia-strewn Libya. I endured months of gun battles, RPG fire, sniper danger and general chaos in the hope that at last we would be able to reunite, catch up and lend some value to the idea that perhaps ours was a friendship worth saving. Had Sara chosen not to visit me I could have understood it. After all, Libya was and is a country fraught with violent danger. But Sara, this cold hearted monster of fraternal rejection couldn’t be satisfied with merely avoiding me. Oh no, she waited until mere months after I had finally departed North Africa to publicly announce via facebook that she would now prepare to visit. Enough! I snapped into life, utilising the comments section of that most vapidly 21st century website to complain of her despicable behaviour. Casting my mind back years I threatened to follow up my previous guest posts on her blog, reminding her of a vow she had made to publish any future rantings I might throw her way.
“I would publish it in a heartbeat”. She replied. Just remember those words, Sara, as I attempt to paint a picture with the words that follow.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and anyone who self identifies as any gender or none I present to you the real Sara Fitouri. The story behind the fierce freedom fighter and warrior for social justice you may know. I feel it is my duty to use this electronic space to publish the truth so that the mask may slip once and for all and we may all pass judgement on this web of lies she has served to create.
Sara Fitouri was born in 1946 as Theodore Robert Cowell. After a violent childhood which began to reveal her twisted and sinister nature she went on to kidnap, rape and kill over 30 victims as the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.
After she took advantage of the low level of competence and intelligence amongst law enforcement officials to secretly escape from prison leaving some poor, confused and learning disabled stooge (whose only desire in life was to be kind to animals and paint beautiful pictures) in her place to fry in the electric chair Sara spent some years trawling the strip clubs, illegal casinos and low rent brothels of Colorado, eventually selling enough crack cocaine to disadvantaged urban youths to secure the funds for the cosmetic surgery necessary to reinvent her life.
At some point in the early nineties Sara abandoned her previously nihilistic ideology and found something to believe in. She dedicated herself wholly to her new cause and became a passionate advocate and activist. Through her work as President of the Republican Friends of Israel group she was eventually asked to become a secret operative for Shin Bet and worked on many missions to ensure the arrest, torture and occasional murder of innocent Palestinians in a variety of locations. Her commanding officer at the time remarked that he had never seen someone take such a sickening, almost sexual pleasure in the suffering of others.
She graduated from regional injustice to global and eventually found herself making large amounts of money from a series of financial interests in Congolese coltan mining, Indonesian palm oil, numerous weapons manufacturers and Goldman Sachs. Her investment company, Fitouri Holdings Ltd. operate with the unofficial motto “If the money doesn’t taste of blood, we’re not making it in the right way”.
Finally, Sara’s proclivity for illegal dog fights, sexual perversion and unprovoked attacks on the homeless and vulnerable have seen her arrested dozens of times. She owes her freedom only to her immorally gotten gains and the fact that the American justice system doesn’t send rich people to prison.
If some of this seems a little farfetched or even demonstrably false to you, dear reader, then I am genuinely upset at your lack of faith in my honesty. I assure you these facts are well researched and entirely true and I stick by them unequivocally. And if Sara has any objection to any of the content then as a seasoned law student and soon to be qualified lawyer I am sure she is aware of how she can lay her claim to libel through the appropriate channels. I am sure she is also aware that, due to the antiquated and unique legal system we operate here, the UK is considered the “libel capital of the world” (New York Times, 2009).
You see where I am going with this, dear reader. For now Sara has but two options, considering her publicly stated and verifiable promise to publish this article. Once published she can either accept the truth of every word written herein, her silence speaking a thousand words and her reputation destroyed forever. Or she can be drawn, like a litigious moth to my libellous flame to that London courtroom to clear her name of such accusations. And there she shall find me in the defendants box (do defendants have a box? Or a stand? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer and whenever I appear in court I refuse to do it sober so my memory is drawing a blank. In any case, I’ll be there) appearing as some kind of British, able bodied Oscar Pistoriu-types character and I shall have my reunion at last. A forced, adversarial reunion, admittedly but as has already been mentioned I am a stubborn idiot and so I’ll take that over none at all.
Your move, Sara.
I was almost too tired to go out. I teased my friends that we could cuddle in my bed and watch horror movies instead of going out. It was a battle I had lost before I even started; they had talked about this Halloween party for weeks. I would perk up, I was sure, after a few drinks. I put on my Robin Hood, but usually mistaken as Peter Pan, costume, and added some extra glitter because tonight we would be heading to the gay clubs. My exhaustion quickly wore off and by the time we arrived at Tracks, drank our first drinks, and made it to the dance floor, I was full of energy. Even as we left the club at last-call, I was incredibly alive. Back at our house, my roommate and one of our friends stayed up for another hour talking. As my friends started to get exhausted and go to bed, I felt great. I told them I would go to sleep soon, and started going through Facebook and my emails on my phone.
4 am. 5 am. I wasn’t tired. Finally at 6 am I started to worry. I hadn’t had enough alcohol to still be drunk. But I didn’t feel right. Why wasn’t I tired? At 7 am I decided to try going up to bed, but laying in my sheets, I still couldn’t sleep. My mind raced 100 miles an hour, just as it had since we started dancing at the club. I began to worry. What is wrong? Why can’t I sleep? Why don’t I feel tired? My anxiety started to build. Somewhere around 7:30 am, anxious but still wide awake, I came up with an implausible, but maybe the only possible, answer: Had I been drugged? No. Who drugs straight girls at a gay club? If I had been drugged it would have had to be a stimulant, but why would someone waste their drugs on someone else?
I cried in bed for the next hour until my roommate woke up. I told him that I hadn’t slept, that I felt weird, but didn’t immediately mention the drug theory because it seemed too irrational to me. A product of my insomnia, perhaps. When I did finally tell him that being drugged is the only conclusion my hyperactive mind had been able to come to in the past few hours, he validated my uncertainty. Sure, methamphetamines would explain my insomnia and my anxiety, but the motive for someone to drug me was completely missing. Still, he insisted that I go to the Urgent Care clinic conveniently 1/2 a block from our house. I must have looked like a zombie as I explained to the nurse that I had been awake for almost 30 hours and that I thought I might be drugged. I definitely felt like one. Like my body was not my own, but was possessed to act in ways I couldn’t understand. The nurse explaining to me that it was probably a bad reaction to alcohol but suggested I take a drug test to be sure. As surprised as I was by my correct diagnosis, the nurse returned and told me I had tested positive for meth. There wasn’t much more to say or do. I went home, and was eventually able to sleep after being up for 40 hours straight.
The next morning my emotions that had been fucked with because of the drugs and lack of sleep started to come in to focus. I felt violated. Someone else had made the choice for me to take drugs. They didn’t know about my health, my history or lack of history with drugs, or anything about me, but still felt entitled to put drugs in my drink.
It is weird, but I am glad it happened to me as opposed to another member of our group. My roommate is in the process of applying for jobs, and testing positive on a drug test could have ruined a job opportunity for him. Two other friends out with us drove home. Had they been drugged they may have still driven and gotten in an accident. I don’t have heart problems or a past drug addiction to methamphetamines. I wasn’t driving that night.
I still felt dirty. Disrespected in an intimate way. Irrationally upset. I spent two days in pajamas lying around the house. I didn’t much feel like going to school or work. I felt weird, and not like myself. After about two weeks, things started feeling back to normal, but I still hate the uncertainty that goes with that night. I look at our Halloween photos, and my eyes seem far off. Like it was someone else who experienced that night with my friends, not me.
Department of Education Meeting: 5/9/2013
Only a few hours after arriving in Washington, DC, I sat with about 20 fellow organizers at a Thai restaurant. Engaging conversation spread over 2 long tables and the only reminder of the pressing issue that had brought students from 11 states together was a napkin being passed around to each person. One by one we wrote our initials and a dollar amount. The light hearted mood was interrupted once the napkin had made its way around and the figure totaled. $602,000. The announcement of our group’s collective student debt infected the room with sober reality.
Our group had gathered in Washington DC to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask him to cut the Department of Education’s contract with Sallie Mae as a step in unweaving the corporate knots he has tangled our higher education system into. It was time he answers to those of us who shoulder the debt that is a direct result of his decisions while serving as Secretary of Education in the Obama administration. When we introduced ourselves in the meeting we announced our debt along with our names. The figures on the napkin came to life as each of us claimed those numbers out loud and as many of us shared the personal narrative behind the red ink that stains our future; evidence of a failed higher education system. When I said my number I saw Secretary Duncan’s eyebrows rise. I had reciting my number several times the night before in preparation for this meeting. I had frantically cried my number to my mother every time a new semester started and a new loan had to be taken out. The number I had placed on the napkin, the number I included in my introduction, had become so ingrained in my daily stress, that I had forgotten the shocking effect it could have, even on the Secretary of Education.
I began my undergraduate degree the same year Secretary Duncan took office. In his 5 year tenure student debt has surpassed one trillion dollars without any serious change in policy to help students avoid taking out unmanageable loans in pursuit of an education. Also in that time, Duncan has continued to privatize the federal loan process and now the Department of Education spends over $1 billion dollars a year contracting private companies to service federal loans. The largest contract is with Sallie Mae. Instead of using funds to bail out students, Duncan chooses to pay high profits to those aggressively, unethically, and often illegally, collecting on the debts that are destroying students’ futures.
In those same 5 years, while pursuing an undergraduate degree and now a law degree, I have become buried under $145,000 of student debt.
Our meeting with Secretary Duncan included several successes. We brought the concern that the current criteria used to evaluate servicing companies rewards the companies for pushing students into default and does not encourage them to enroll qualifying students into programs such as the Income Based Repayment Plan. As a result of financially incentivizing Sallie Mae for collecting on students in default, the company works towards student failure, instead of helping students succeed in paying off their debt. Duncan welcomed the feedback on the criteria and agreed to consult with us in determining the criteria used to evaluate future contracts. He requested that we communicate further with him on specific suggestions for revisions of the criteria.
Additionally, we demanded that the Department of Education institute a policy that stops funding organizations that have violated the law. We particularly mentioned the Cesar Chavez DC charter school, of which Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord sits on the board. The Cesar Chaves School has recently violated the collective bargaining rights of workers when it illegally fired teachers who were trying to unionize. Duncan showed great concern and stated that he didn’t want the Department of Education funding projects that violated the law.
Our main and clearest demand still goes unmet. Duncan would not yet agree to cut the contract between the Department of Education and Sallie Mae. While he did agree to encourage Albert Lord to meet with us and he encouraged us to go to the shareholder meeting, this is not enough. Duncan heard through testimony at the meeting how Albert Lord treats students who come to Sallie Mae. Past actions have included riot police and K9 units. Instead of speaking with students, Albert Lord has sent the police after them and had them arrested. I will be at that shareholder meeting and so will most of the students who spoke with Secretary Duncan. On May 30th, we will stand alongside hundreds of other student who are dedicated to fighting for our right to higher education even in the face of getting arrested and large amounts of security wielding batons and shields. The pressing question is: how many students will have to be pulled off in handcuffs before Secretary Duncan will be ready to stand up for students and cut the contract with Sallie Mae?
Recently, I have been working alongside students from across the Denver area to create a state-wide student union called the Colorado Student Power Alliance, which works on cross campus campaigns to improve higher education in our state. Most recently we have been focusing on the issue of student debt.
One year ago, national student debt passed 1 trillion dollars. And while my generation is feeling that burden, I, myself, have a binder filled with 4 years of private and public loans from 4 years of undergraduate, at a fabulous, yet nauseatingly expensive, private college. I am not alone. 2/3 of students graduating university are leaving with student debt, the average amount owed is above $25,000. And while many are quick to assert that being in student debt is my fault, blaming the individual simply ignores that higher education has become a way of reinforcing class divides by inhibiting working and middle class from earning degrees without putting themselves at the mercy of large corporations who own the debt that it is becoming virtually impossible for us to pay off. Many students graduating are either under employed or unemployed after graduation illustrating that our degrees are not worth the amounts we are being charged.
After 9 hours in a Van with other members of the Colorado Student Power Alliance, we arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah to protest at the Wells Fargo Shareholder meeting. We joined members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who, through their fight against home foreclosures in California, had sent Wells Fargo on the run. Past protests had convinced John Stumpf to break a 16 year tradition and move the meeting from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. So, while ACCE pursued the fleeing stage-coach and horse from the west, we flanked from the east. We were there to make sure that unlike any scene from the Music Man, The Wells Fargo Wagon arrived in its destination, not to the joy of the town, but to vivid reminders of its violent foreclosure and debt policies.
Four of us dressed in business attire with proxies in hand walked toward the Grand America Hotel. We were going inside. It didn’t feel like only four of us were going in to that meeting. In efforts to calm my nerves, I thought back to each student who had shared their debt story with me. Those who had written their five and often six figure debt numbers on our debt wall. I recalled the graduates who feared garnishments and unemployment and getting up to 7 calls a day from collectors. I also recalled the 50 letters that student groups around the nation were delivering to Wells Fargo branches in their communities, and I thought of the Macalester students, who within the same hours were beginning a sit-in in their administration building to force their President to kick Wells Fargo off their campus. We were only four, but we were there to speak as part of a generation of youth enslaved by unbearable debt. A generation that is mobilizing in our communities and on our campuses to fight back.
As the second largest private profiteer from student debt, the key to the debt shackles on thousands of my peers was possessed by the multimillionaire corporate banker who stood behind the podium in the front of the shareholder meeting.
During the meeting, after hearing close to a dozen concerned shareholders bring critiques of racial discrimination, unjust housing foreclosures, and John Stumpfs obscene salary- all of which were quickly dismissed by an unphased Stumpf who cast off the concerns with rhetorically empty sound bites of corporate policy- we began our action.
When the first member of ACCE stood up, John Stumpf tried to quiet her down. There would be a question and answer period later, he insisted. During the previous comment period John Stumpf had ignored all the hands raised by women and people of color in the room and had only called on white men. He had, additionally, cut off the comment period at only four people. We knew that voicing our concerns in a forum provided by Stumpf himself was neither optimal nor possible. We were done raising our hands to be heard. We would not ask his permission to resist. One after another we began standing up to John Stumpf and demanded that he hear our concerns. After two women went, it was my turn.
“You are stealing our future!” I did yell at the highest paid banker in the nation. I was surprised, myself, by the power in my voice. John Stumpf’s head jolted away from the person who spoke previously and shot in my direction. For about the next 15 seconds the floor was mine. I told John Stumpf that Wells Fargo was participating in the destruction of higher education, condemning our generation to a lifetime of debt, and that we demand a process for loan modification. As I was escorted out of the room, I heard a fellow COSPA member’s voice ring out continuing our message to Stumpf, who had temporarily given up trying to silence the voices he ignores on a daily bases. He was silent now. For the time being, he had lost control of the meeting.
Moments after I was led out the doors, members of our team still in the meeting began chanting “Racist Lending is a crime, John Stumpf should be doing time!” They, too, were escorted out, and we were all reunited by the security guards who were anxious to get us all the way out of the building. We complied and headed slowly to the doors but continued our chant. The words echoed off of the marble walls, crystal chandeliers, and back into the shareholder meeting, where an exposed John Stumpf was trying to regain control of the meeting.
The opportunity to see a corporate giant shake- be it by silencing John Stumpf at his own shareholder meeting or the dropping of shutters and locking of doors as a march arrives at another bank branch- is a direct reminder of the power we have. Wells Fargo knows that they cannot hide. That they cannot run. And that, while they can escort us out of meetings, they cannot stop a student movement set to expose and end their violent lending practices.