'The Stupid Experiment'

Recalling Jane Addams’ lost classic, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets

By Greg Moses


Chicago is bleeding, and the Mayor has called the citizens to action: “I don’t want people to wait for Mayor Daley to call a meeting. I want you to call a meeting in your home with your children and loved ones. I want you to go next door and talk to those children next door. I want the parents of the block to say ‘This block will be free of violence.’ Suddenly, all voices converge upon the insight that if nobody else actually provides time or space for youthful thrills, the gun industry will.

Ninety nine years ago Jane Addams wrote about “the stupid experiment” of American life that she saw all around her in Chicago. The adult world had thrown together a city based on round-the-clock work. Impressive piles of cash were daily stacked and sorted. In the hustle-built streets meanwhile stood all the children dropped and stranded by a colossal shift of economic priorities. Stranded youth were symptom to a deeper cause, argued Addams. In modern life the whole spirit of youth has been exiled and detained.

“This stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play has, of course, brought about a fine revenge,” wrote Addams in 1909, pre-dating by a full decade the better known thesis of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. Adults were damming up their own “sweet fountains” of pleasure, “but almost worse than the restrictive measures is our apparent belief that the city has no obligation in the matter, an assumption upon which the modern city turns over to commercialism practically all the provisions for public recreation.”

Public recreation? “Only in the modern city have men concluded that it is no longer necessary for the municipality to provide for the insatiable desire for play.” SWAT teams and jobs programs are what headlines call for today; more “restrictive measures” and “organizing work.” According to the Addams formula, these can only add up to another “fine revenge.”

Cromwell’s Puritan dictatorship stripped communal life of adornment and joy, recalls Addams. Then the liquor stores stepped in. As a result, people in the modern Anglo city work to make money, then spend their money buying liquor.

Young women in this new economy could be turned into one of two things: working hands by day or working bodies by night. Bitches or hos. Missing everywhere now was joy. And the young men under this new regime? Well, there was one sanctioned public endeavor that would guarantee them some hope of adventure. Didn’t Addams virtually predict a century of war?

As the pleasure intensity of adult play grew, so did the distance between adult society and children. Is the Playboy mansion the kind of place one brings actual boys? Communal festivals used to be different, argues Addams, where adults and children could dance together. If children obviously get lost in this new industrialized strandedness, adults also fail to find refreshment from an authentic “spirit of youth.”

Everyone fails to listen to the one voice capable of instructing Socrates. It was Diotima, recalls Addams, who said that love is an attempt to give birth to beauty. There is an essential lesson here for any republic that wants to be something besides ugly. When we have come to a crisis where men chase killer kids with SWAT teams and jobs, it may be time to follow the example of Socrates. There is a woman here talking about city-centered love and joy. Shut up and learn.

News of Immigrant Abuse Widely Ignored, So Far

A headline in the Dallas Morning News fairly represents the tone and content of a story: “Tales of terrorists breaching border overblown, so far.” Indeed it is a long story about what “could” occur, but hasn’t occurred. A curious bit of news.

On the other hand, immigrant families from around the world continue to be abused by USA immigration authorities in Dallas. And the stories continue to be widely ignored, so far.

It has been some time since we’ve heard news of a happy ending, and we watch with distress as a recent case of abuse involving Rrustem Neza jolts down a darkening tunnel of climate controlled indifference. Not only are USA authorities trying to deport him, too; they are petitioning to dope him first.

In all the cases we have shared at the Texas Civil Rights Review, the pattern is the same. Hard working, decent people crammed into a wringer without remorse. These exercises of American power cannot fail to provoke anger in a beating heart, and we have proved that hearts of Texas are beating.

Yet, at some level of structural maladjustment a sinister formula requires that news of someone’s stated fears should overtop interest in the real suffering of the day. As another chance at a happy ending slips past.

Against the discouragements of our continuing alliance with refugees and deportees, we quote John Rawls from “A Theory of Justice”:

“Now one feature of a rational plan is that in carrying it out the individual does not change his mind and wish that he had done something else instead. A rational person does not come to feel an aversion for the foreseen consequences so great that he regrets following the plan he has adopted. . . . We may, of course, regret something else, for example, that we have to live under such unfortunate circumstances . . .” (421-422) –gm

Happy Birthday Ramsey Muniz: Letter from Irma

Dearest Friends:

On December 13, 2007, Ramsey turns 65. In celebration of his birthday I thank God for the blessing that He has given me through his life. This is ironic considering the fact the he has been incarcerated for many years. The essence of a person, however, not in where he is, but rather who he is. Ramsey is a unique spirit chosen by God to sacrifice for the sake of humanity. I believe this.

With pride I share that Ramsey Muniz was a leader during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 60s and early 70s. Because of his leadership and activism Ramsey brought about a change which improved the quality of life for many by giving them a voice in the political arena.

With deepest gratitude I thank our families, friends, and supporters for their love and compassion, and for the action that they have taken to provide assistance to a man who sacrificed greatly for others, suffered unjustly, and continues to suffer today.

With love and gratitude,
Irma Muniz

“The power of love has no limits. It is the power of imagination.”


Desegregation in Texas: It Ain't Over Yet


AUSTIN, TX – The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino legal organization, will argue on behalf of LULAC and the GI Forum to uphold student transfer provisions for Texas school districts in order to ensure that desegregation efforts are not impeded. Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META) serves as co-counsel in the United States v. Texas case, which will be argued before the Fifth Circuit by David Hinojosa, Staff Attorney for MALDEF’s Southwestern Region, on December 5, 2007.

Filed in 2004 by the Harrold and Samnorwood Independent School District’s (ISD), the ISD’s claimed that the State had unlawfully withheld their funds after they failed to enter student transfers into the state’s student transfer computer system. The Districts also argued that the transfer provisions of Order 5281 only applied to those school districts that were part of the original 1970 lawsuit and that ISD’s did not need to report Hispanic transfers.

Despite having prevailed in the district court, the districts argued that the transfer provisions should not remain intact and the State has essentially consented. MALDEF filed a brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and will argue: 1) that the matter is moot since the Districts prevailed in the trial court; and 2) that the transfer provisions remain relevant and are aimed at TEA’s past violations. If TEA desires to have those modified or dismissed, then it must properly bring a motion before the District Court, not the Court of Appeals.