All posts by Murphy Institute

Pushing Through Doors: Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”

By Zenzile Greene

On the heels of the Spike Lee Retrospective being shown at BAM Cinematek through July 11th, I would like to present a piece I wrote up on assignment for my “Culture Through Film” class taken this past fall at the School of Professional studies. The course, taught by Professor Kelley Kawano, was developed brilliantly not only for the purpose of traditional Film History survey, but also towards the goal of turning a critical lens on the pervasive and myriad ways in which culture influences film and vice versa.

Over the course of the fall semester, we viewed and deconstructed a range of films from the Silent Era to the Hollywood Studio Era, to the groundbreaking independent films made by such pioneers as Irving Penn and Spike Lee. For several of our weekly assignments, we were asked to take one scene from a movie and analyze its use of one in a list of primary technical film elements, including editing, sound effects and direction.

For inspiration, I drew on the use of symbolism in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” from a paper I wrote in the class “Mass Media in Black America” taught by Professor Arthur Lewin at Baruch in 2010. I was very excited to write up a brief analysis of the symbolic use of editing in one particular scene of this, one of my favorite films in Lee’s “Brooklyn Trilogy” series.
Continue reading Pushing Through Doors: Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”

Gods Are Not The Kind Of Machines That Last

By Greg McDonald

I wrote a psalm for Jesus while I was sleeping.
It turns out differences are settled with cross
words in the new world, that rules are measured

in miles like horses, then discarded, that night
is the breaking of bread, the welter of birds it affords,
the cove where Christ gorges on clumps of flotsam

and tidewrack – O Lord, sweep the sea with thy skirt
and increase my bewilderment! An open window lets in
the ocean, I can hold my breath for hours and sift through

the sea’s squalor – the telephone floating near the toaster,
the iron pulling a bag of oranges under, our silverware
glinting like sardines, my brothers like two glass floats

asleep on the rocks, my mother grappling with ghost nets,
my sister swimming in the wrong direction following
the light down as if our lives depended on her.

Purchase A Length of Night Work at Finishing Line Press.

Politics, Progressivism and the Future of the Democratic Party

By Basil Anthony Smikle Jr. 

Earlier this year, Gallup reported that a record number of Americans identify as Independents. Forty-two percent of the country shed traditional political party labels: Republican Party identification fell to 25% while 31% identified with Democrats – down from 36% in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for the nomination. Attempts to recalibrate each national party’s internal political compass before 2016 will likely prove more vexing for Republicans, but recent activity among major Democratic figures signals a far more aggressive push for realignment than previously thought. A high-profile campaign 10 years ago and recent developments among education policy-leaders may foreshadow a dramatic shift in the Party’s forthcoming platform.

Howard Dean’s rapid ascension among Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 was fueled in part by an strong anti-war stance, a unabashed liberal ideology during the neo-conservative Bush-Cheney years, and a pre-Facebook internet strategy that was groundbreaking for its fundraising and community-building activities. Dean famously lost in Iowa and New Hampshire as voters chose John Kerry, who was presumed to be a better general election candidate. While Dean’s loss was not wholly unwelcomed by certain corners of the Democratic Party, his most ardent supporters were without a champion until early 2007, when President Obama kicked off his seemingly quixotic campaign for the White House.   Continue reading Politics, Progressivism and the Future of the Democratic Party

Another Look at Labor in Dark Times – Part 3: Glimpses To Make One Less Forlorn

This is the final installment in a three-part series by Nick Unger on union structures, labor consciousness and the possibilities of organized labor moving forward. Read Part I: Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness and Part II: Hello & Goodbye with Far Too Little In Between for the full picture.

“Once the Voting Rights Act was passed and people got the right to vote, they stopped sitting in and started voting and that turned out to be much more effective.” -Former Rep. Barney Frank on the CNN series “The 60s”

Much more effective? The millions facing new barriers to the right to vote might question that. Replacing sit-ins with legally protected (a little) voting was a bad idea strategically, tactically and ideologically — and not just in retrospect. We were making progress so we stopped using the tools that worked. When has that ever worked?

But this is a blog about labor, not the civil rights movement. Same point. Replacing sit-down strikes with legally protected (a little) collective bargaining turned out to be effective for a little while. I know capital promptly moved to outlaw sit-down strikes to make a point, but they had never exactly been “legal” to begin with.

The big change was unions now had something to lose: their formal recognition and political acceptance, their institutional structures and treasuries. Before then, they just risked jail. Dylan was right: “When you ain’t got nothing you got nothing to lose.” Modern unions thought they had something to lose. Continue reading Another Look at Labor in Dark Times – Part 3: Glimpses To Make One Less Forlorn

Communications Coordinator at The Vermont Workers’ Center

Communications Coordinator (full time): The Vermont Workers’ Center – Jobs with Justice (VWC) is accepting applications for a full time Communications Coordinator.

The Communications Coordinator is responsible for developing and carrying out the communications plan for the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign and the Vermont Workers’ Center.


  • This position will be expected to work primarily in the Burlington and Montpelier offices.
  • Job responsibilities include (but are not limited to) spokesperson development, building relationships with journalists and pitching stories, written campaign materials, email blasts, website content, member development, content distribution, trainings, and social media.
  • Full time starting in early August.
  • Salary based on experience, full healthcare and dental benefits, health and wellness stipend, paid vacation and sick time.


  • 2+ years of experience with strategic communications work in a campaign context.
  • Passion for justice, a willingness to learn, and the ability to work hard.
  • A knowledge of labor movement, human rights and grassroots organizing practices and principles strongly preferred.
  • Strong time management skills and organization, excellent written and oral communication skills, detail oriented, and self motivated.
  • Ability to exercise good judgment and be able to work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
  • Driver’s license and insurance required.
  • Graphic design skills preferred, but not required.
  • Strong computer skills, experience with html preferred.

To Apply:
Send a resume, cover letter, 2 examples of written communications work (press release, email blast, etc.), and 3 professional references to james (at)
Application Deadline: August 1, 2014

The Vermont Workers’ Center – Jobs with Justice (VWC) encourages people to apply from all ages, race, ability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status and geography. We are looking for people who love being part of a team and have the ability to dream big and work hard to build a movement for more just communities and to build a better world.

Gag Rules and Wage Discrimination: Why Workers Need to Know Their Rights

Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, workers have a right to organize a union to negotiate with employers. So how can so many workplaces impose gag rules, prohibiting employees from discussing pay with one another?

In When the Boss Says, ‘Don’t Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Get Paid’, a recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Timm argues:

Gag rules…are policies that flourish when employers know the law and their employees do not.

Timm goes on to explain:

the NLRA is toothless and employers know it. When employees file complaints, the National Labor Relations Board’s “remedies” are slaps on the wrist: reinstatement for wrongful termination, back-pay, and/or “informational remedies” such as “the posting of a notice by the employer promising to not violate the law.”

At the same time, ignorance of the law can just as easily fuel gag rules. Craig Becker, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, used to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. He told me that workers who called the NLRB rarely were aware that their employer’s pay secrecy policy was unlawful.

Continue reading Gag Rules and Wage Discrimination: Why Workers Need to Know Their Rights