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Aziz Ansari addresses sexual misconduct allegations like an adult

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Earlier this week, Aziz Ansari directly addressed the sexual misconduct allegation against him for the first time since issuing a brief statement last year. And he did it in his standup act.

“There were times I felt really upset and humiliated and embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible this person felt this way,” Ansari said at a “pop-up” show in New York on Monday night, according to Vulture’s Jesse David Fox. “But you know, after a year, how I feel about it is, I hope it was a step forward.”

Ansari was talking about the allegation, published on the website Babe.net, that he had pressured a woman to have sex with him while they were on a date. “I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz,” the woman told Babe reporter Katie Way. “It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.”

After the allegation became public, Ansari’s comedy seemed to take a reactionary turn, as he complained about liberals on Twitter playing “Progressive Candy Crush.” But on Monday, he spoke thoughtfully about the accusation against him and what he’d learned from the experience. It wasn’t a full public apology, but it was far more than most powerful people have offered when accused of sexual misconduct as part of the #MeToo movement. And Ansari’s words provided a model — even if it was an imperfect one — for people who want to reckon with similar allegations against them.

Ansari’s appearance Monday was a departure from his other post-#MeToo material

In January 2018, Babe.net published a story about a woman identified by the pseudonym Grace, who said that Ansari had repeatedly missed or ignored her signals that she didn’t want to have sex with him during a date that ended at his apartment. At one point, she said she told Ansari, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” According to Grace, he then invited her to “chill” on the couch — but then pointed to his penis and motioned for her to perform oral sex. She ultimately left and, she said, “cried the whole ride home.”

In a statement issued after the story was published, Ansari said that everything he and Grace had engaged in “by all indications was completely consensual.” When she told him afterward that she’d been uncomfortable, he wrote, “I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.”

The allegation against Ansari has been one of the most controversial of the #MeToo movement, with some arguing that the comedian has been unfairly lumped in with men accused of multiple sexual assaults, and others saying Grace’s experience is worthy of discussion, even if it’s different from what women have said they went through at the hands of, for example, producer Harvey Weinstein.

Though Ansari struck a somewhat contrite tone in his 2018 statement, some of his standup after the allegations came to light seemed to point to deep-seated anger.

He complained in one appearance about Twitter users debating cultural appropriation, according to Eren Orbey of the New Yorker.

“Everyone weighs in on everything,” he said. “They don’t know anything. People don’t wanna just say, ‘I don’t know.’”

He also likened left-wing Twitter users to Trump supporters, and accused them of playing a competitive game of “Progressive Candy Crush.” Overall, Orbey wrote, “like other men who have reëmerged in recent months, he seems to have channelled his experience into a diffuse bitterness.”

His material on Monday, at least according to Fox, struck a very different note. He admitted that the allegation against him was “a terrifying thing to talk about.” However, he said, “It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.”

Ansari said a friend told him that hearing the allegation made him rethink his own dating history, and said, “If that has made not just me but other guys think about this, and just be more thoughtful and aware and willing to go that extra mile, and make sure someone else is comfortable in that moment, that’s a good thing.”

And, he added, the experience made him grateful for his career. “There was a moment,” he said, “where I was scared that I’d never be able to do this again.”

It wasn’t perfect, but Ansari’s appearance on Monday started a conversation

The statement wasn’t an apology — and by saying he “felt terrible this person felt this way,” Ansari didn’t exactly accept blame. As many have pointed out, it’s odd to frame men’s efforts to avoid sexual coercion as going “that extra mile.” And Ansari’s comments focused largely on the experience’s effects on him, not its impact on Grace.

Still, Ansari showed he was willing to discuss the accusation against him, without complaining about internet outrage or critics on Twitter. He was willing to think about what he and other men could learn from it. And, crucially, the entire experience made him aware that his career in comedy is a valuable, coveted privilege, not a birthright.

At this point in the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen many powerful men and their supporters discuss comebacks with the expectation that the accused are owed forgiveness and a return to their former positions, often before they’ve made much of an effort to atone. So it was meaningful for Ansari to acknowledge that he was not, in fact, entitled to his career as a celebrity, and that he was thankful to his audience for continuing to make it possible.

I was one of those who saw the allegations against Ansari as an important part of the growing public conversation around sex, power, and consent, and I believe it’s possible to take Grace’s story seriously while acknowledging the ways it differs from women’s stories about Weinstein. Because of my writing on Ansari and others, I’m often asked — on Twitter, over email, and by friends — what would constitute a satisfying response by a man to allegations of sexual misconduct.

I often point to Community creator Dan Harmon’s apology to Megan Ganz, a writer he acknowledges he harassed when she worked on his show.

“I did it by not thinking about it,” Harmon said of the harassment, in an episode of his podcast Harmontown. “And I got away with it by not thinking about it.”

Now, I’ll point to Ansari’s latest material — not as a perfect apology (or even as an apology, exactly), but as an example of a man clearly facing what he’s been accused of and speaking about it frankly with his friends and fans.

As Fox notes, Ansari is soon embarking on an international tour, during which he’ll use material he’s been trying out in recent appearances. So his statement on Monday may be the beginning, not the end, of his reckoning in public. And for other people who have been accused as part of #MeToo, perhaps it can also be a beginning — the start of a larger conversation about what real growth and atonement, not just a return to business as usual, might look like.

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes

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Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates

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