By Matthew Vadum
A little-known consortium of radical groups, public-funded universities and the federal government is quietly seeking to transform the arts and other academic disciplines into vehicles of left-wing extremism and indoctrination. The initiative, called “Imagining America,” embraces the philosophy of Communist historian Howard Zinn, famous for manipulating historical fact to fit Marxist paradigms of human “progress” and to plant the seeds of radicalism in unsuspecting youth.
Imagining America is headquartered at taxpayer-funded Syracuse University in upstate New York and was virtually unknown until Glenn Beck threw some light on it in a broadcast. Beck described Imagining America and another group that calls itself “The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture” as an “effort to rewrite our history and catalyze a new culture for America.” This “department” isn’t actually part of the U.S. government but describes itself as “the nation’s newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change.”
Active in both groups are “the people that will be teaching and influencing your children” through “art and music and film and history books,” Beck said.
America’s neo-communist radicals figured out a long time ago how to have their cake and eat it, too. U.S. taxpayers have been funding subversive left-wing groups like the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation since the Johnson administration. They advance their objectives, erode civil society, and send you the bill.
Such is also the case with Imagining America, which occupies a cushy niche at the intersection of taxpayer-funded universities, government agencies and wealthy far-left non-profit organizations.
Imagining America grew out of executive action. President Bill Clinton created the White House Millennium Council by Executive Order 13072 on Feb. 2, 1998. One of the council’s tasks was to “[p]roduce informational and resource materials to educate the American people concerning our Nation’s past and to inspire thought concerning the future[.]” The veritable cultural warfare council was headed by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Imagining America was founded at a 1999 White House Conference initiated by the White House Millennium Council, the University of Michigan, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Conference participants became the basis for what was to become the group’s “consortium” of 100-plus colleges and universities. The group was initially hosted by the University of Michigan. Syracuse University took over in 2007 as IA’s temporary home, and will remain host through 2017.
Like many radical groups, Imagining America (its full name is Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life) couches its goals in soothing, innocuous-sounding prose.
“Imagining America,” according to its current mission statement,
advances knowledge and creativity through publicly engaged scholarship that draws on humanities, arts, and design. We catalyze change in campus practices, structures, and policies that enables publicly engaged artists and scholars to thrive and contribute to community action and revitalization.
According to IA, publicly engaged scholarship
is defined by partnerships of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, creative activity, and public knowledge; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address and help solve critical social problems; and contribute to the public good.
Publicly engaged scholarship, also called simply public scholarship, means politicized scholarship. It is not about the free pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. In other words, going to college is not about the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and truth. It’s about righting the perceived wrongs of the past and changing society in furtherance of so-called social justice.
And in the hands of leftist crusaders, many of the above words in IA’s mission statement don’t mean what you might think they mean.
For example, when these people use the word democracy or democratic, they mock democracy as the idea is understood by most Americans. They believe in what the Left calls economic democracy, also known as socialism. They are excited at the prospect of reordering society with the help of capitalism-hating agitators. To them, democracy is Marxist mobocracy. And it’s only true democracy if they prevail. If they lose, it’s not democracy: the capitalists stole the election or took advantage of the people because they suffer from a mass “false consciousness.”
To cut through the billowy clouds of word smog generated by leftist academics, it is necessary to examine what the ideas embraced by Imagining America actually amount to in the plain English that these people use in public outreach.
Take the case of socialist theorist and community organizer Harry Boyte, who is director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College in Minneapolis (Augsburg is a member of IA’s consortium of colleges.)
In a video intended for public consumption that promotes Imagining America’s national conference this October in Atlanta, Boyte urged the fusion of higher education and left-wing activism:
I want to lift up organizing as a supplement. It’s different than action. In fact, organizing is not mobilizing. It’s not people out in the streets in a protest mode. It’s the patient, slow development of relationships that build power … This is actually an extraordinary pioneering step for Imagining America to be bringing in organizing methods to which people in higher education, and connected to the world, can make our work more public.
Academic Scott J. Peters, co-director of Imagining America, said his group is tasked with
producing knowledge and theory and writings but the most substantial part of that work is actually building relationships, organizing opportunities for people to understand what they’re facing, to come together to share their values and experiences, and then to try to make the changes that will help advance their values and their ideals. That work is organizing work.
“There’s a tension that organizers are always working and that’s the tension between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be,” said Peters, paraphrasing Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals, the vade mecum of the organizing world.
“Well, the ‘story of now’ is a story that helps us see and feel that tension,” Peters said in a reference to what community organizing theorist Marshall Ganz of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government calls the “public narrative” framework. “We can see that the world as it is, ‘the story of now,’ is not the same thing as the world we’d like it to be, so therefore we’re called to act.”
Peters is also part of the leadership team for a dubious research project that received $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project is called “Food Dignity: Action Research on Engaging Food Insecure Communities and Universities in Building Sustainable Community Food Systems.”
When you’re a Marxist, America is always in crisis. Kevin Bott, an associate director at IA, said the group “is at a particularly interesting and ripe moment to assert arts, humanities, and design thinking as a way to get the heart of the crisis that we all find ourselves in locally, nationally, and globally, politically, socially, economically.” Bott was also the Green Party’s unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Syracuse last year.
George J. Sanchez, vice dean for diversity at the University of Southern California, declared that IA examines “huge issues for the country and I think, again, we have to imagine a different America.”
Jesikah Maria Ross, a community organizer who is creative director at Praxis Projects, said IA “is really looking at, how do we bring together faculty, students from different disciplines with community organizations to kind of co-create something whether it’s an artistic production or engaged scholarship in a publication. How do we do something together for mutual benefit that moves community organizing and community change forwards?”
Fresh from the politically correct indoctrination camp, Ryan Metzler, a student in Occidental College’s Media Arts & Culture Program, spews the things that Imagining America wants to hear, complete with appropriately tortured postmodern diction, neo-Marxist buzzwords, and trendy academic gibberish.
In a testimonial on the IA website he writes:
“My work is informed by the belief that media makers have a responsibility to collaborate with and integrate marginalized communities into documentary films and other media projects in order to transform problematic representations … Media makers must take responsibility as a democratic community to break stereotypes by giving voices to men and women who lack the technological resources … We as a society cannot forget the history of media practices. As a society we cannot practice such an influential art without all groups having a voice.”
This is the language of relativism and multiculturalism, both of which are tools neo-Marxists use to weaken and transform America. The first obligation of media “makers,” as the student calls documentarians and journalists, is to push so-called social justice and allow disadvantaged groups a veto over his work, he claims. After years of PC brainwashing, truth is apparently not important to him.
Not surprisingly, Imagining America requires fellows in its Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) program to read the Marxist journal, Monthly Review, and works by communists W.E.B. DuBois and Paulo Freire (author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed).
Among the course offerings for which Syracuse University faculty members have received IA grants are “Jazz and Human Rights as Cultural Democracy” and “Queering Syracuse.” A grant was also given for a course called “Masks, Movement, and Giant Puppets” that may as well be taught by anti-American radical Medea Benjamin of Code Pink.
Figuring out the legal status and internal organizational structure of Imagining America is no easy task.
When the University of Delaware received a $2,000 “Critical Exchange Grant” from Imagining America, the school described IA as “a national nonprofit organization that encourages the incorporation of civic responsibility into art education at the university level.” But this researcher could find no evidence that Imagining America is a legally incorporated nonprofit entity. A public database search in Nexis revealed what appeared to be an old, probably lapsed business listing of some kind in its name in Michigan, but nothing else.
It is difficult to imagine running an enterprise as large and active as Imagining America appears to be without incorporating it somewhere. If Imagining America is merely an unincorporated project of Syracuse University there could be problems in terms of commingling of funds and it could generating major accounting headaches.
But that’s exactly what Imagining America is, according to Erin Martin Kane, Syracuse University’s associate vice president for public relations, who responded to some organizational questions by email. After rehashing IA’s creation story, she explained that IA “is an academic unit of SU that’s funded and supported by the more than 100 member institutions, including SU, other colleges and universities, and civic organizations. IA does not solicit, or accept donations from individuals.”
At press time, Kane had failed to respond to follow-up questions about how large IA’s annual budget was, how many employees it has, and if it produces annual or regular reports. That IA is an “academic unit” of SU, as Kane indicated, appears to be true. The SU comptroller’s office lists Imagining America as department 20018 of the university.
Even so, Imagining America’s finances are very difficult to track, perhaps deliberately so. It charges taxpayer-funded educational institutions up to $5,000 annually in membership dues, which means that taxpayers fund IA indirectly. Grants to IA from foundations and membership dues from these tax-exempt universities and colleges that are part of the IA consortium should presumably appear in tax returns somewhere. But very little appears in the comprehensive FoundationSearch database which contains data extracted from the compulsory annual IRS filings of foundations and other nonprofit organizations.
The database shows only a handful of grants from foundations that benefited the group.
The Rockefeller Foundation has been onboard with IA since at least 2001. That year it gave $150,000 to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation “to support ‘Imagining America’ public scholarship grants program.” The next year it gave $25,000 to the University of Michigan “toward the costs of a conference of the Imagining America public scholarship program entitled ‘The Engaged University, the Engaged Community, & the Daily Practice of Democracy.’”
The New York Council for the Humanities, a taxpayer-funded nonprofit, gave Imagining America $18,000 in 2010. The Teagle Foundation gave IA $150,000 in 2012.
And there the paper trail of grants specifically designated for Imagining America ends.
High-profile left-wing philanthropies have given money to the University of Michigan and Syracuse University that may have ended up supporting Imagining America projects.
Radical financier George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (formerly known as Open Society Institute) has given grants to the University of Michigan ($6,020 since 2000) and Syracuse University ($203,880 since 1999). The Soros-associated Tides Foundation has given grants to the University of Michigan ($35,000 since 2005).
Syracuse University has received funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation ($185,000 since 2001), Rockefeller Foundation ($638,800 since 2000), and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation ($392,600 since 2009).
Transforming America With Your Tax-dollars
“Politics is downstream from culture,” the late, great media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart liked to say frequently when explaining how the deck has been stacked against conservatives for decades.
At Breitbart’s website, screenwriter and producer Lawrence Meyers, elaborated.
Culture influences politics, and in ways the Left has understood for a long time. The Right has sat idly by, as they did with higher education, and let an ideological movement take over one of the most important aspects of American society.
Imagining America is at the center of it all, accompanied by neo-communist activists and organizers, cheering our republic’s decline, and teaching Americans to despise their country.
The Obama administration is helping the group accomplish its mission.
In early 2012, IA proudly announced it was working with the White House Office of Public Engagement, the U.S. Department of Education, and various groups to publicly launch the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP), “a yearlong initiative to promote higher education as an agent of democracy and a force for public good.” [emphasis added]
The director of ACP was socialist organizer Harry Boyte. IA’s Peters and his fellow co-director Timothy K. Eatman were also both members of ACP’s steering committee.
With taxpayer funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) laid bare the radicals’ objectives in a 2012 report.
In “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” AACU recommended that “existing national civic networks … be tapped and expanded for leadership in mobilizing the next generation of investment in civic learning.” It singled out The Research University Civic Engagement Network (TRUCEN), Project Pericles, and Imagining America.
At page 42 the report states,
“If indeed we seek a democratic society in which the public welfare matters as much as the individual’s welfare, and in which global welfare matters along with national welfare, then education must play its influential part to bring such a society into being.”
That’s the goal of Imagining America and the public scholarship movement in a nutshell. To transform America so that the collective trumps the individual, and the rest of the world trumps America.
As long as President Obama remains in office, your taxpayer dollars will continue to support these un-American goals.
And if Hillary Clinton, who got the American narrative rewriting effort underway in 1999 when she headed the White House Millennium Council, succeeds Obama in the Oval Office, she’ll do whatever she can to finish the job she started.