media attention

Four UT students took a trip across the border last weekend to see the impoverished lifestyle of factory workers and the struggles they face just four hours to the south as they push for better working conditions.

Philosophy senior Sophia Poitier, Plan II senior Sabina Hinz-Foley, Plan II sophomore Bianca Hinz-Foley and former UT student Yajaira Fraga traveled Friday to the border city of Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico. There, they met with representatives from an automobile manufacturing plant owned by PKC Group that employs close to 8,000 people. Employees of the factory have received international media attention during the last few months as they have attempted to form a union and gain better working conditions and increased pay. The four students are members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, an international organization that advocates for workers’ rights.

Poitier said some of the factory workers invited the students to their homes, where they saw the dirty, cramped government or make-shift structures many of the workers pay a significant portion of their pay to live in. 

“I actually got to see what these people’s lives are like and that makes it much more real and much more urgent,” Poitier said. “It made me realize how important solidarity is for these workers, because not only are they working 10 hours a day, holding second jobs and taking care of children, but they are also organizing in their spare time.”

Poitier said, people in the UT community and the rest of the country are generally not aware enough of the living conditions that exist in Mexico.

Fraga agreed, saying most of the media attention on Mexico in the U.S. tends to focus on issues associated with the border.

“Obviously you hear and read things about Mexico, and they are never pretty,” Fraga said. “But you never get to read about the struggles that people go through day in and day out.”

Bianca Hinz-Foley said another goal of the trip was to encourage the workers and lend additional support to their struggle.

“One of our objectives as USAS students is to stand in solidarity with worker rights organizations that struggle to combat illegal and inhumane working conditions in their factories and workplaces in Austin and abroad,” Biana Hinz-Foley said in an email.

Poitier said the UT chapter of USAS will be focusing most of its efforts in the near future on an effort to get the University Co-op to purchase roughly $250,000 worth of apparel from a factory in Central America that has come to serve as an example of fair working conditions in an impoverished area.

“We want the Co-op to show that they care about the rights of factory workers,” Poitier said.

Printed on Friday, October 19, 2012 as: UT students visit Mexico, advocate for worker rights

For the past few months, names such as Rick Perry and Herman Cain have been ubiquitous in every news publication. Most of the coverage deals with scandals, sound bites and gaffes as opposed to any policy platforms. Over the years, around election time, the American electorate shifts its focus from considering candidates’ platforms and credentials to scrutinizing personality traits and partaking in gossip. While this provides for highly entertaining Saturday Night Live sketches, it detracts from our understanding of what these candidates are actually promoting.

For instance, many accredit Perry’s infamous “oops” gaffe at the CNBC debate to how his entire campaign will be remembered. In Perry’s latest debate faux pas, when questioned about the three areas of government he would cut, he failed to remember the third governmental department and sealed his fate with a simple, “Oops!” Indeed, this mistake was unprofessional and elucidates Perry’s severe lack of public-speaking skills. Yet so much attention was paid to his forgetting the third department that the comprehensible part of his answer, that he would eliminate the departments of commerce and education, was ignored.

More attention should be paid to the fact that Perry called for the elimination of the Department of Education despite the controversial state of our public education system. As highlighted by political pundit Fareed Zakaria, America has drastically fallen behind many other countries in terms of educational proficiency. Furthermore, teachers are facing job uncertainty as states implement budget cuts. Perry’s education policy requires greater attention than a simple lapse of the mind. After all, past debates have demonstrated his lackluster public speaking skills.

Cain is facing a great deal of media attention for the sexual harassment allegations that seem to increase in number each week. Undoubtedly, sexual harassment is morally repugnant and furthers a system of misogyny in our society. These allegations should be noted, but the extent to which the allegations have been debated and reported overshadows Cain’s policy platforms and eligibility to serve as president. And with the rousing scandal and easy-to-digest sound bites including “9-9-9,” many are ignoring Cain’s glaring lack of knowledge about crucial governmental issues, particularly foreign policy.

Recently, the news magazine Foreign Policy released an interview fumbling over a basic question about Libya, one of the central issues of foreign policy at the moment. Reporters asked Cain whether he agrees with the actions Obama took in Libya, referencing American support of the NATO-enforced no-fly zone. After struggling to recall what exactly the issue in Libya was, Cain produced a muddled and unconnected response, clearly illustrating that he had little to no knowledge of the situation.

In addition, Cain implied that knowing the president of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” was irrelevant to presidency, calling details about foreign policy details “gotcha questions.” Admittedly, I don’t know the president of Uzbekistan, but I also am not running to be president of the United States. To serve as a leader of the free world, one must be well-versed in foreign relations, including crucial international issues involving the United States such as the Palestinian Right of Return. Cain belittles the importance of foreign policy, and at the moment, all the media attention he is generating equally belies his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Though the sexual harassment allegations must be evaluated, his supporters and critics must give greater attention to his credentials for presidency than they are right now.

The misallocation of media attention can be attributed to the fact that political discourse has become too personal. The electorate places its focus on personality and scandal as opposed to substance and policy, leading to an overemphasis on Michele Bachmann’s “crazy eyes,” as opposed to her policy positions. CNN will host yet another Republican debate Tuesday, focusing on foreign policy and national defense. Hopefully, viewers will gain a better understanding of the candidates’ policies rather than material for bad jokes.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.