Category Archives: Podcast

GIDEON’S ARMY Receives Prestigious Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize

This week, on the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, The Ridenhour Prizes announced that GIDEON’S ARMY, directed and produced by Dawn Porter, will receive the 2014 Documentary Film Prize.

The Ridenhour Prizes recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-­telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) is the landmark Supreme Court decision that unanimously ruled that states are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants unable to afford to pay for their own attorneys. GIDEON’S ARMY follows three young public defenders in the Deep South — Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick — as they struggle with staggering caseloads, long hours and low pay, trying to balance their commitment to public service with a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. Here’s the trailer (:45):

In reflecting upon its decision, the awards committee said, “We are thrilled to have selected Gideon’s Army which celebrates the legion of idealistic young public defenders who are fighting for equal justice for the disenfranchised within our broken and biased legal system, while struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty themselves.”

brandyclient

(One of the attorneys featured in the film, Brandy, with a client.
Image source.)

GIDEON’S ARMY highlights the work of public defenders while also exposing the subtle and not so subtle ways in which the justice system is complicit in the mismanagement of indigent defense. Rather than taking their chances with a court appointed lawyer — who may have hundreds of other cases — increasing numbers of defendants agree to plea deals or sentences outside of a trial. As a result, between 90 to 95 percent of defendants plead guilty and never receive the right to counsel as guaranteed by the sixth amendment to the Constitution. This disconnect between the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright and the reality of the law’s implementation has clearly contributed to prison over-crowding, violence, and a reduced chance of rehabilitation.

study of the 100 most populous counties in the United States found that 82 percent of indigent clients were handled by public defenders. In the most recent year that numbers are available, a mere 964 public defender offices nationwide had to handle nearly 6 million indigent defense cases.

“I am honored and so very grateful to receive the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize,” said director Dawn Porter. “The award will help amplify the critical issues Gideon’s Army exposes, and further share the harrowing stories of America’s overworked public defenders with audiences across the world. Ron Ridenhour was a man committed to truth-telling and correcting injustice. My hope is to advance these same ideals, by using Gideon’s Army to educate audiences, spark civic debate, and ultimately advance constructive solutions to the problems facing America’s criminal justice system. On behalf of the 15,000 public defenders and their clients, and with special thanks to the wonderful lawyers of Gideon’s Promise who are the inspiration and heart of the film, I thank the Ridenhour Award Committee.”

We here at JustPublics@365, congratulate Dawn Porter on this prestigious award. We’re also pleased to have this opportunity to share our recent interview with her.


 

GIDEON’S ARMY will be awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize on Wednesday, April 30th, from 12pm to 2pm at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This event is open to press.

 

 

Special Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter is a lawyer turned documentary film maker who’s film, Gideon’s Army, follows three public defenders in the Deep South. Her film chronicles the lives of these public defenders and emphasizes the personal stories of their clients to show the realities of, and inequalities in, the criminal justice system. In this interview we talk about how she constructed the film and what impact she hopes it will have.

 



Heidi Knoblauch: The first question I have is could you share a little bit about yourself, your work on “Gideon’s Army” and how you think of your work as a documentary filmmaker, as a form of activism, art, or both? A more targeted question would be: when did you decide to become a documentary filmmaker?

Dawn Porter:  I actually decided I wanted to make a documentary film, which I think is different than deciding I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was working for A&E Television, and I just felt like I wasn’t seeing a lot of stories about minorities or stories that I cared about. There were things I was interested in that I thought other people would be interested in too, and I thought, “You know, I think I could do this.”

When I met Jonathan Rapping and the public defenders I thought, “This is a great story that I have access to, but also that I think I understand as a lawyer.” That’s kind of how it started. I really started out thinking I wanted to make a film. I wasn’t thinking about a whole career shift at first.

Heidi Knoblauch: I know that the film is based on the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision, why did you choose to focus on that? What led you to focus on the public defenders?

Dawn Porter: I think that, like most people, I didn’t really understand what public defenders do, how critical they are to our system of democracy. I think that most important, I didn’t understand at all why anybody would do their job. It’s just such a tough job, such little pay and long hours. I couldn’t really… I just was really curious, why would anybody want to defend people who are accused of terrible things?

I was really just curious about them. I also felt, once I got to know them, I felt like what they do is so misunderstood and so misrepresented. I thought that doing a film could add to the public conversation about what they do and show people why they do it, but also why it’s so important and why we should all care about it.

Heidi Knoblauch: That leads into another question that I had, which is who are your target audiences?

Dawn Porter: I think it’s really everybody. I think it’s for the general public, which I put myself in. It’s did you know that 80% of people accused of crimes are represented by public defenders, which leads to the follow-up, that means 80% of people who are being arrested in this country are, if not at poverty level, are very low-income. I think that that’s a striking statistic.

Then I think for public defenders it was to encourage them to explain to people why they do what they do and why it’s important. I think a lot of times public defenders get so much negative publicity that they tend to kind up give up on the general public and not explain what they do, and I think people are open to it if they have those dialogues. For them it was be proud of what you do, you’re so important to our system.

Heidi Knoblauch: Cara Mertes, who leads JustFilms at the Ford Foundation, has said “thinking about impact will make your film better.” Did you think about the impact you wanted this film to have before you made it? How did that shape the film?

Dawn Porter: I think, like a lot of people, I thought about it a little bit abstractly. When you’re making a film your first goal is to make a good film, but along the way I think I realized that it could be a really important part of a conversation that’s happening in this country about criminal justice and criminal justice reform.

I think what Cara says is absolutely right. We should be thinking all along the way for opportunities to spread the message and also who our audiences are, who are allies might be, who might be the microphones for our film, who might use it to make social change.

I think I came to it a little bit later than she was talking about, but along the way that was a really critical part of what we were doing, engaging the public defenders, the ACLU, other social justice, criminal justice outfits. They’ve been fantastic in hosting screenings and publicizing the film and that, I think, has led to a really successful rollout, culminating on HBO.

Heidi Knoblauch: What do you think the film says about the criminal justice system in our country?

Dawn Porter: I think it says that there’s a whole class of people who are invisible and that we have a criminal justice system that works very differently if you’re poor than if you’re wealthy. Since most of the people being brought into it are poor, I think we should be alarmed and horrified by what passes for justice. I think the young people who are featured, who are the lawyers in the film … The other thing I think it says is, “Those are patriots. Those are people who love our Constitution, love our country. They are doing the unpopular thing, but they are also the last protection for people accused of serious crimes.”

There’s almost nothing more serious that you can do than to lock somebody up and strip them of their rights. To make sure that we do that properly… And that’s why we started this film with Travis saying, “If you’re going to take my liberty, you’ve got to do it right.” It’s just one of the most important things we can do. We see, across the world, people are fighting for the ability to have fair trials and free speech. That’s what public defenders do. They’re representing people so that they have fair process.

Heidi Knoblauch: You mentioned that scene with Travis Williams, and I was really blown away by that scene. Why did you decide to focus on a few cases that the public defenders were doing rather than emphasize these huge caseloads, 125 cases or something like that, for each of them.

Dawn Porter: I think that the numbers start to … we get immune to the numbers. When you say, “Twelve million people arrested every year, seven million people in the criminal justice system, two million people in prison,” people get immune to what that really means. What I wanted to do is say, “That’s the backdrop. See how much effort it takes for one of those? Now do the math. Now think about if he has to do this, times 160, what could that possibly be like?”

I think that people, when you slow down and let them understand all that goes into being a good lawyer, I think that it allows them to enter his world and enter his mindset in a way that … If you just put up a big number, it gets a gasp but it doesn’t bring you into his world. If you see actual people … Prisoners become numbers. People accused become numbers and not real people.

What I wanted to show is every single person they’re representing has a family, has a story. If he does his job right he’s supposed to get to know that, but how can he possibly do it with those numbers? I wanted to focus on individual people and not have people be numbers.

Heidi Knoblauch: A major focus of JustPublics@365 is bringing together academics, activists and media makers in ways that promote social justice, civic engagement and greater democracy, and often academics appear as talking heads in documentary films. How can academics push the boundaries and move beyond the role of the talking head?

Dawn Porter: I think that they should really think about what drew them to their work, what made them passionate about their topic in the first place. Don’t hesitate to tell those personal stories if you want to be more than a talking head. We can look up facts. We can’t look up personal stories and experience, and that’s what a person who studies or writes or thinks about really important topics can bring to an interview. That personal experience. Why does this matter? Why do you know it matters? Help us explain to everybody else what you see. I think that’s an incredibly important role for an academic.

Heidi Knoblauch: What are some key projects that would give documentary filmmakers, activists, and academics opportunities to work together? In other words, not necessarily working on documentaries about the Civil Rights Movement, but what are the points of intersection for these three sometimes indistinct groups of people?

Dawn Porter: We all go through a period of research where we’re looking for characters. We’re looking for people to help explain a story. If someone has written extensively about a topic, often you know the people that have really good stories. At the research stage, there’s a great opportunity for collaboration. I think there’s also … For writing proposals, we often have to have experts review the proposals.

That’s a really good collaboration, is finding someone who will read over your submission to the NEH, or National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a really critical … Foundations and other funders, they want to know that you’re tapped into the people who are thinking exclusively about the topic that you’re working on. At the research and writing proposal stage, there’s a great opportunity to work together with people who are interested in being storytellers.

Heidi Knoblauch: Thank you so much for this great interview. It was wonderful.

 

Special Interview with gabriel sayegh on Municipal Drug Strategies

gabriel sayeghThis week I interviewed gabriel sayegh, the director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York policy office. In this interview, we talk about municipal drug strategies in Canada and Europe and explore opportunities for New York to implement these types of municipal-drug strategies.

 

 

 


What are municipal drug strategies?

Municipal drug strategy is simply a city-based strategy for approaching the problems of drugs and that when you have a situation of opening our drug market as an example or drug-related disorder, cities are often the first jurisdictions that have to address and deal with those problems. Of course, not every element of drug use is a problem. That’s not the case at all but there are instances particularly in cities when drug use can become deeply problematic, either because of overdose fatalities or the transmission of HIV and AIDS or drug related crime or disorder related to open drug markets or public drug consumption. Continue reading

Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine on Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education

Charter Schools: JustPublics@365 PodcastIn this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 podcast series, I sit down with Michelle Fine and Michael Fabricant to talk about the charter school movement. Their recent book, Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? (2012) questions the promise of the charter school movement. The book seeks to use empirical data to determine whether charter schooling offers an authentic alternative to the public school system.

JustPublics@365 podcast

 

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This post is part of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series. The podcast series features CUNY Graduate Center faculty who are working on issues of social justice and inequality. If you have any questions, research that you would like to share, or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Heidi Knoblauch at heidi.knoblauch@gmail.com

Joseph Straus on Disability Studies and Music Theory

JustPublics@365 Joe Straus PodcastIn this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I interview Joseph Straus on his work on disability studies and music. Professor Straus is a Distinguished Professor in the Music Department at the Graduate Center and author of Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music (2011) and Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music (2006). In addition to his work on disability in music, Professor Straus has worked on StravinskyTwelve-tone Serialism, and Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Our conversation centers around Professor Sraus’s research and theorizing on disability in music. We discuss how disability has traditionally been treated by music theorists and why Professor Straus has decided to take a different approach.

JustPublics@365 podcast

 

 

 

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This post is part of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series. The podcast series features CUNY Graduate Center faculty who are working on issues of social justice and inequality. If you have any questions, research that you would like to share, or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Heidi Knoblauch at heidi.knoblauch@gmail.com

Frances Fox Piven on the Development of the Welfare State, Voting, and Activism in the Academy

ClosingPlenary PivenSS

In this episode of the JustPublics@365 podcast series, I interview Distinguished Professor Frances Fox Piven (Graduate Center, CUNY). Professor Piven is an expert in the development of the welfare state, political movements, urban politics, voting, and electoral politics, and she has been politically engaged with improving the lives of America’s poor since the 1960s. She has taught at several universities in the United States and Europe and among her many books are the bestselling Poor People’s Movements (1977), one of four books she coauthored with Richard A. Cloward; Mean Season: The Attack on the Welfare State (1987); Why Americans Don’t Vote (1989); Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way (2000); Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2008), with Joshua Cohen. In addition, she was invited to write introductions to re-issued volumes of The Lean Years (2010) and The Turbulent Years (2010), both by Irving Bernstein. In this episode, we address the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Voting Rights Act, her work as an activist, and her research on the welfare system in America.

JustPublics@365 Podcast

 

 

 

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This post is part of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series. The podcast series features CUNY Graduate Center faculty who are working on issues of social justice and inequality. If you have any questions, research that you would like to share, or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Heidi Knoblauch at heidi.knoblauch@gmail.com

Ashley Dawson on Resistance: JustPublics@365 Podcast Series

In this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 podcast series I interview Ashley Dawson, Professor of English at the College of Staten Island about his book Mongrel Nation and about his work as the web co-editor of the journal Social Text.

Ashley DawsonIn this interview we talk about some of the ways migrant communities have established a sense of self and community within nations and the history of resistance by African, Asian, Caribbean and white Britons to insular representations of national identity. Professor Dawson also talks about how his academic work and academic training impacts his social justice work.

JustPublics@365 Podcast

 

 

 

 

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This post is part of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series. The podcast series features CUNY Graduate Center faculty who are working on issues of social justice and inequality. If you have any questions, research that you would like to share, or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Heidi Knoblauch at heidi.knoblauch@gmail.com

Margaret M. Chin on Garment Workers

In this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I interview Margaret M. Chin, Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNYMargaret-Chin

Professor Chin was born in New York City, and is the daughter of a former garment worker and restaurant waiter. Her research interests focus on new immigrants, working poor families, race and ethnicity, and Asian Americans. She is currently working on a project on the 1.5 and second generation Asian Americans who lost or changed jobs during the recent recession. Her book Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry explores how immigration status, family circumstances, ethnic relations, and gender affect the garment industry workplace. In this book, she contrasts the working conditions and hiring practices of Korean- and Chinese-owned factories. This comparison illuminates how ethnic ties both improve and hinder opportunities for immigrants.

In todays interview, we talk about Professor Chin’s current research, how she gathered her research her motivation for doing this research, as well as her findings about how workers perceived garment work.

 

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This post is part of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series. The podcast series features CUNY Graduate Center faculty who are working on issues of social justice and inequality. If you have any questions, research that you would like to share, or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Heidi Knoblauch at heidi.knoblauch@gmail.com

Juan Battle on the Social Justice Sexuality Initiative

In this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I interview Juan Battle on his work heading the Social Justice Sexuality Initiative.

Juan BattleProfessor Battle is Professor of Sociology, Public Health, & Urban Education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is also the Coordinator of the Africana Studies Certificate Program. In this interview we talk about the goals of the Social Justice Sexuality Initiative as well as collecting survey data and acquiring funding. Professor Battle ends by talking about his work with community activists and sharing the large amount of data he collected.

Janet Gornick on Income Inequality

In this week’s episode of the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I interview Janet Gornick on her research on working families and income inequality. Professor Gornick is Professor of Political Science and Sociology and director of the Luxembourg Income Study Center (LIS) at the City University of New York. In this interview we talk about the impact of income inequality and why people should care about issues of inequality. She answers questions about her research on duel earner families and the work of LIS. Professor Gornick ends the interview with insights into how her work has been used by activists and how she sees herself as a scholar-activist.

Jessie Daniels, Chase Robinson, and Matthew K. Gold on JustPublics@365

JustPublics@365 is launching its podcast series this week! The weekly podcast highlights academic research on social justice and inequality. To kick off the podcast series, I sat down with Jessie Daniels, Chase Robinson, and Matthew K. Gold to talk about the project’s goals and how JustPublics@365 leverages digital media. In this interview I ask the three principle investigators of JustPublics@365 about knowledge streams and the ways that digital media can foster “public scholarship.”

Podcast Series Launch

This October, JustPublics@365 is launching a podcast series highlighting research by CUNY faculty on issues of social justice and inequality.

The series will feature the work of faculty from the Political Science, Sociology, English, Psychology, Social Work, Anthropology, and Music departments who will share insights from their research as well as how they came to do the research they do and how that research might connect to social justice activism and may have an impact on the world beyond academia.

Scheduled interviews include conversations with Janet Gornick, Juan BattleMargaret ChinMike Fabricant, Michelle Fine, Ashley DawsonFrancis Fox Piven, Victoria Sanford, Leith Mullings and others.

The first podcast, an interview with Janet Gornick, will be released on Monday, October 7.