The American DREAM Comes to New York

When Camilo Godoy was 10 years old, he moved from Bogotá, Colombia to a tightly-knit Hispanic enclave in Bergen County, New Jersey. As his mother had just married an American citizen, Godoy became a legal resident.

But many in his community, including neighbors, classmates and close friends, were undocumented and not as lucky. The DREAM Act, he says, gave them hope.

Jose Luis Zacatelco (bottom left), along with members of the New York State Youth Leaders Council, meet with State Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) Courtesy of the senate of new york (center) and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares (D-Washington Heights) (right)

 

The federal bill would have provided permanent residency in the United States for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, graduated from U.S. high schools, and lived in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment, affording them a chance to hold jobs and pursue college-level degrees. But on December 8, 2010, the DREAM Act fell five ballots short of the 60-vote threshold in the United States Senate. As supporters cried outside of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C, Godoy watched the news unfold from his computer, he recalls.

“Their future was so close to change,” Godoy said. “You could really see how a piece of legislation could impact the lives of these people.”

Godoy, 23, is a fourth-year BA/BFA student studying photography at Parsons and education at Eugene Lang College. Last year, he co-founded the Global Migration Group, a collection of New School students and immigration advocates. Since then, the organization has sponsored a series of film screenings and forum discussions aimed at fostering support from those around New York City.

The New York State Board of Regents estimates that 345,000 undocumented immigrants currently attend public school in New York state. In 2012, nearly 10,000 of these students will graduate high school.

The immigration debate has stalled in Washington. But in Albany last March, New York State Senator Bill Perkins and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares introduced a statewide version of the DREAM Act that would give immigrant students grants, loans and scholarships, regardless of citizenship status.

“This bill is for a population that has grown up here and has been educated here,” said Alexandra Delano, a global studies professor at Lang and Global Migration Group advisor. “Without it, we lose huge potential for the future. With it, we move one step closer and finally address the challenge of how to pay for college.”

The legislation has gained political backing around the state. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, as well as United States Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand have all endorsed the bill.

“Immigration is at the very center of our city, state and nation,” Perkins told the Free Press, noting that similar legislation passed in Illinois, Connecticut and California in 2011. “Even though the national bill has yet to pass,” he added, “our vision is still the same, and the dream is still the same.”

The proposed act has also elicited strong support from educational leaders in the city. Last month, New School President David Van Zandt added his name to the growing list of backers, sending a public letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo in support of the bill.

“A legacy of embracing diverse perspectives… continues to inform our philosophy,” Van Zandt wrote in the January 18 letter. “Immigrants and their children enrich our culture, sustain our economy, and enhance our understanding of the world around us.”

According to the New York State Youth Leadership Council, The New School is currently one of five universities in the state backing the bill. Other such institutions include Manhattanville College, New York University, CUNY and SUNY. The New York State Board of Regents has also announced its support.

“This university’s central educational philosophy is about access,” said Peter Taback, The New School’s vice president for communications and external affairs. “By making it easier for new Americans to pursue a quality education, the New York State DREAM legislation speaks to The New School’s core values.”

Despite the bill’s growing support from members of New York’s academic communities, conservatives argue that it rewards an estimated 550,000 people residing in the state without documentation. They insist that with nearly eight percent unemployment in New York, these immigrants should not be positioned to take jobs from legal citizens.

“Bills like these cut the rule-breakers to the front of the line at the taxpayer’s expense,” said Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department counsel now working as a senior legal fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. “Passing this in New York will only attract more of these criminals to the state.”

Critics on the left, meanwhile, argue that the bill is too selective, assisting only a narrow proportion of undocumented immigrants. In order to qualify for financial aid under the act, a student would have had to migrate to the United States before age 16, be under age 35, and have lived in New York for two years prior to the day the bill takes effect. Applicants would be legally obligated to either finish two years of a four-year degree, complete 910 hours of community service, or serve at least two years in the New York National Guard. The bill would not provide a means for direct citizenship.

Alex Rojas, a partner at immigration law firm Barst, Mukamal, and Kleiner, said that the upcoming elections will likely prove unfavorable toward those who support the bill. With Republicans determined to retain their majority in the State Senate, he added, bipartisan support will remain unlikely.

“It is a shame when a kid with intelligence, ability and drive is unable to work or further an education because of an illegal status,” said Rojas. “Washington has become so partisan, nothing can get done.”

But undocumented immigrants like Jose Luis  Zacatelco believe that the bill has already begun to serve a purpose by sparking a larger conversation about citizenship.

Zacatelco, 31, spent the first 10 years living in the Mexican  city of Puebla. He recalls a conversation he had with his grandfather just days before crossing the border with his mother and four siblings.

“He knew he was never going to see me again,” Zacatelco said. “But he told me, ‘Education will let you become the person you want to be.’ My family sacrificed everything to come here. But we did it for a reason.”

After learning English and graduating high school, Zacatelco found a job as a heating and cooling engineer. He has since decided to continue his education, and is pursuing an associate’s degree in mental health at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

In 2007, inspired by his experiences from both sides of the American border, he founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an immigration rights group. The council consists of about 50 active volunteers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. By calling legislators and university personnel from around the state, Zacatelco hopes that the council will help support for the New York DREAM Act, and bills like it, to grow nationwide.

“Maybe right now the federal act is not doable,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we will just wait around. Students are taking charge of their duties and dreams as Americans.”

The Youth Leadership Council will host a town hall meeting in March to organize mass support for the bill as it moves closer to votes in the State Assembly and State Senate, respectively. Like many members of the Global Migration Group, Godoy plans to attend.

“It is empowering to see how unafraid these people are to fight for justice,” said Godoy. “We need to be their allies.”

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Mixing Profit and Purpose

New law promotes corporate responsibility

Whether they are sidewalk markets selling organic, locally-grown produce or apparel companies taking stands against child labor, scores of businesses across America are pledging to help the communities they serve.

As the result of a new law signed on December 12, businesses in New York State will soon be able to donate money to social and environmental causes without worrying about lawsuits from shareholders focused solely on individual profit.

The Silver-Squadron Act, which takes effect on February 10, will make New York the seventh state to ratify such legislation.

Over the past two years, Maryland, California, Hawaii, Vermont, Virginia and New Jersey have passed similar legal protections. Supporters throughout the state believe the law will add much-needed momentum to a national discussion about socially conscious enterprises.

“It assures entrepreneurs and managers that their dollars are going to bring them financial return and also social return,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, the 32-year-old Brooklyn Democrat who co-wrote the bill. “This is a great combination of being connected with the community and unlocking the entrepreneurial spirit.”

For David Bolotsky, 48, founder of the Brooklyn-based UncommonGoods, the law will mean a chance to create a more balanced ratio of profit and purpose.

Bolotsky grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; his grandfather ran a nearby candy store, while his father worked for the United Nations. He was raised a student of both business and public service at work. In 1999, he founded his own online store, which features merchandise ranging hollowed-out cantaloupe bowls to wooden walruses, in support of local artists and manufacturers. It was a major professional shift for the man who had previously spent twelve years as a research analyst at Goldman Sachs, with a mandate, he says, to predict the future.

“‘Often wrong, never in doubt’ was our motto,” he recalled. “I found it fascinating, but it lacked a spiritual meaning. If I had stayed there, I would have gotten locked in with golden handcuffs.”

Bolotsky saw his future in donating money to causes around the city, including hunger and bicycle transportation. But because he was unfamiliar with starting a nonprofit organization, he built the startup around what he knew best — money. While much of UncommonGoods’s profits go to the workers making these products, Bolotsky also sets funds aside for City Harvest and Million Trees NYC, along with other organizations.

“There weren’t any businesses that really addressed social, economic and environmental issues in a holistic way,” he said. “There’s no reason why business has to be portrayed as this evil thing.”

In recent years, businesses like UncommonGoods have begun gaining support from investors as well. According to a May 2010 study from San Francisco-based strategy firm Hope Consulting, more than $120 billion is available nationwide in potential investment capital for benefit corporations and other American mission-based companies.

As demand grows for companies to operate as benefit corporations, third-party organizations, like the non-profit B Lab, aim to ensure that these companies report their social progress within the first 120 days of each fiscal year.

B Lab was founded in 2007 as a network of 81 socially driven businesses, or “Certified B” corporations. Today, more than 500 of these companies exist across the country, in industries ranging from agriculture to housewares to publishing.

“There is a huge generation of millenials who don’t want to work at companies that don’t reflect their values,” said Andrew Kassoy, co-founder of B Lab. “Investors can use this as a tool for accountability, and businesses can use this as a way to grow without compromising that mission.”

Through these third-party regulators, benefit corporation bills have received extensive bipartisan support, receiving a total of 892 ayes and 62 nays from legislators, as of December.

“This law features a great political mixture,” Andrew Greenblatt, who helped write the Silver-Squadron Act and teaches social entrepreneurship at New York University, told the Free Press. “Those on the left are happy because it protects corporations focused on social and environmental issues, and for those on the right, it does so without regulation from the state.”

Greenblatt once worked as a financial consultant for Ben Cohen, best known for co-founding the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s. Before British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever bought his business in 2000, Cohen focused on increasing profit for employees and shareholders alike, working on social initiatives that were not capital-based. One such program offered non-profit urban youth organizations the chance to start their own ice cream franchises and raise money within their communities.

The program was not publicized, nor did it raise money for stockholders. Following much debate, the business’s hesitant loyalists and its eager shareholders completed the $326 million sale in April of that year. The company’s stock price rose to record highs, while many of its social projects were discontinued.

“What happened to Ben & Jerry’s is the case study for what we are trying to prevent from happening,” said Greenblatt. “Had they been a benefit corporation, that would not have happened.”

But despite existing potential for social and environmental change that these businesses provide, critics feel they are impractical within a largely capitalist framework.

“The essence of capitalism lies in knowing that companies not delivering profit will not stay in business,” said Charles Elson, a corporate law professor at the University of Delaware. “There is no point investing in a company in which you get little to no return; they will disappear before getting a chance to benefit anyone.”

Chris Crews, a politics major at The New School for Social Research and a board member of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, believes that current standards for benefit corporations are too low. He noted that, as part of B Lab’s certification process, companies only have to score 80 points out of a possible 200 during the initial assessment.

“If a benchmark says you are doing a good job by only meeting 40 percent of the target, that is not much of a standard,” said Crews, “no matter how big the Occupy movement or the socially responsible investing community grows.”

Those who continue to support benefit corporation legislation nationwide stress that time will let the flaws figure themselves out.

“We need to go into this consciously willing to pay attention and be supportive, alert, and aware of what’s going on,” said William Clark, a corporate attorney with Philadelphia-based firm Drinker, Biddie and Reath. “This is a very new concept, so we’re going to see how it evolves.”

In the months to come, benefit corporation bills will be moving through more state legislatures throughout the country, including those in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Additional reporting by Jill Heller.

Mike Doughty Keeps On Rising, No Longer Gets High

Almost every morning, before brushing his teeth, he would chug a beer. Eating breakfast, he would smoke weed or shoot heroin.

He would run to the bathroom to vomit so often, he eventually got lazy and stopped kneeling toward the toilet. In the days when Mike Doughty’s substance abuse hit its peak, few exploits were off limits.

Today, the 41-year-old singer-songwriter — and Eugene Lang College ‘91 graduate — has been clean for nearly a dozen years. He jokes that his memoir, “The Book of Drugs,” is “JADN” — “just another drug narrative.” With self-deprecating stories of petty band feuds, post-coital handshakes with groupies, and enlisting Jeff Buckley’s help on moving day, he invites readers into his sardonic world.

Doughty rose to fame as the frontman for Soul Coughing, the “deep slacker jazz” band best known for alternative rock radio hits like “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles.” As the youngest member of the group, he faced ridicule from his bandmates and often felt overwhelmed and bullied. Drugs, he says, became his way to handle not only the tension with bandmates, but also the demand of creative life.

But in 2000, following the breakup of the band and a near-fatal Thanksgiving Day heroin overdose at his parents’ house, Doughty kicked his addiction. Soon after, he began a first solo tour, traveling 9,000 miles across America in a rental car.

Since then, he has played Madison Square Garden, recorded four studio albums, appeared on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” and even published a book of poetry.

Doughty’s newer songs, such as “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well,” released in 2005, and “(I Keep On) Rising Up,” released in 2009, feature a lighter tone than those from the Soul Coughing years. Still, he is surprised how quickly his longtime fans embraced what he calls his “sad man, happy man” shift in style.

“The Book of Drugs” (De Capo Press; 252 PP.; $16) is available in bookstores now.

Actually, I didn’t have any plans on writing it at all. But then a friend of mine called my bluff on it. So I eventually decided to put my stories together and make the book. 

How would you describe the format of the book?

It’s pretty compact, like a Ramones song. But most of it is just basically stories of things that have happened to me along the way. Some of it was chronological, and I wrote other stuff on an as-I-remember-it basis. I didn’t write it in chapters, but my agent gave me a call after he gave it a look and told me, “I really like what you did with this!” So it stuck.

In addition to your musical talent, you are known for your lyrics. What did you pick up first? Writing or music?

In high school, I would write these science fiction stories. Even though they weren’t really my own. I stole a lot from Burgess. 

How did your time at The New School impact you?

The professors there were some of the most talented people I have ever met. I took a writing course taught by Sekou Sundiata [a former Lang writing professor and Grammy-nominated poet who died of heart failure in 2007] and he would come up with these phrases like, “Is it soup? Is it soup?” In other words, he pushed us to nourish and get to the essence of what we were writing about. He was pivotal to helping me find what I as looking for at Lang.

You went to school with Ani DiFranco.

Yeah! She was incredible. Still is. We both lived in the Loeb dorms on 12th Street, and we would always hear her practice. She has always had such a level head and attitude about herself. She was in the process of recording her first album already. We all knew she would go far.

 Would you ever think of revisiting your alma mater?

It has been such a long time. And I know a lot has changed, so I’ll probably just let it live in my head.

Another fellow musician you got to know well was Jeff Buckley. How would you describe your relationship with him?

I originally met him when I was still a doorman at The Knitting Factory, a concert hot spot on Houston Street at the time. After my band made it to a major label, we toured around the country with him. Even among so-called “indie” artists, there’s always that desire to be accepted by large groups of people. And so, when I heard that he died, the first thing I thought to myself was, “This guy will be such a legend now.” Apparently, he wrote something in his journal about how much he admired me. I still can’t believe it.

What is the relationship you have now with your former Soul Coughing bandmates?

We had a chance to give Beck and the Beastie Boys a real run for their money, but the others in Soul Coughing were such assholes. Instead, we became this odd footnote. I mean, these guys actually thought they wrote the songs. I would show them lyrics I wrote, and they would tell me to my face, “You didn’t write that.” They actually, genuinely thought they wrote the songs. Of course I felt like shit. These were the kind of people I was around. We just mutually avoid each other as often as we can.

Now, as a solo artist, what’s it like to go back to all the venues, now that you’re clean?

It’s great! And the best part is, a lot of the fans are just as fun. I had this one woman who came up to me while I was playing a gig. She hands me a Sharpie, lifts her shirt, and asks me to sign her tit. Drugs or no drugs, if you’re in a position in which a woman wants you to do something like that, you’re not going to refuse.

Much of your book is based on personal memories. Have you thought about looking back at old journal entries you wrote as a point of reference?

No. I mean, there was a time when I needed to write them. They gave way to many of my ideas and many of the lyrics I have written. But that would be really tough for me to do.

Do you still fear relapse?

Yeah, there will always be that fear inside of me. But that’s really what the meetings are about. This one time, this woman and I were waiting for one of them to start. We kept waiting and waiting, and when nobody else showed up, we just started talking like we would at any other meeting, hearing each other’s stories. It’s incredible to play that role in someone’s recovery.