SSASA » Overview

A Long History of American Studies Programs at Salzburg Global Seminar

Since Salzburg Global's founding in 1947, with the first American Studies program at Schloss Leopoldskron, the study of America has played a vital role in the history of this organization. For decades, scores of prominent intellectuals - academic and non-academic - have gathered in Salzburg to examine and debate American politics, foreign policy, economics, literature, history and culture, and America's role in the world. More than 30 American themed seminars have been organized, all are self-funded.

Session in 2016:

Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes
September 23 to 27, 2016


Interviews and coverage from our SSASA programs

Lecia Brooks – Dedicated to Ending Injustice in America
Lecia Brooks speaking at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Lecia Brooks – Dedicated to Ending Injustice in America
Oscar Tollast 
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is committed to fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice. Lecia Brooks, the Center’s outreach director, frequently gives presentations around the United States to put this message across to others. As a faculty member of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), Brooks wanted to put another thought in her audience’s minds. “What I wanted to convey to the participants in the seminar was that these issues that they do such a good job in chronicling for academic purposes, and they spend their time researching, have real-life consequences; that they’re representative of people’s real lives; and that the threat to civil rights and civil liberties that we’re seeing thus far under the Trump administration are affecting people already. I wanted it to be more than an intellectual discourse, but I sought to put a face to some of the story, the pictures we were painting,” she says. A few weeks before the symposium in Salzburg in September 2017, events unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia that grabbed the world’s attention. Hundreds of white nationalists and supremacists descended on the town for the Unite the Right rally: a far-right rally organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Civil War general, Robert E. Lee. The night before the rally, about 250 people took part in a torchlight procession through the University of Virginia campus, shouting phrases such as “You will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil.” The group clashed with counter-protesters and left following the arrival of police. On the day of the rally, the violence continued. In the early hours of the afternoon, one person was killed and others were injured after a car went into a group of counter-protesters. A helicopter monitoring the clashes also crashed that day, killing the two Virginia State Patrol troopers who were on board. Brooks, who also serves as director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, chose to share images from the torchlight procession in one of her presentations. She says, “It was just so incredible, and it is just frightening that it happened in the United States and right in the open on a university campus. First and foremost, I wanted to document that it happened, remind people that it happened, and remind people that it could happen in their university as well.” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project has led to the creation of anti-bias resources such as documentaries, lesson plans, and curricula, which are distributed to educators free-of-charge across the country. Brooks says the Center hopes to educate young people about the threat from the far right and “talk more about our aspirations to create diverse and inclusive communities and to make clear that those diverse communities are for everyone, including white males who are feeling marginalized at this time, [which] makes them particularly vulnerable to messages from white supremacists.” Brooks wanted to attend the 15th SSASA symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – to have a conversation about justice, civil rights, and the issues surrounding them with a global community. She says, “I thought it would be really important, and it has been.” On the first morning of the symposium, participants woke up to remarks from US President Donald J. Trump made during a rally in Alabama. He criticized National Football League (NFL) owners for not punishing players who protested, who he accused of disrespecting the American flag. In a series of tweets posted the following day, he said, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” His remarks are thought to be in reference to the actions of players such as Colin Kaepernick, who first chose to sit during the anthem in August 2016. Kaepernick sat down during the anthem to protest the oppression of people of color in the US and issues with police brutality. Following a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and US army veteran, Kaepernick chose to kneel, not sit, during the anthem from that point onward to show more respect for the armed forces. In response to Trump’s remarks, a movement sparked on social media with people tweeting a photo of themselves kneeling using the hashtags #TakeAKnee and #TakeTheKnee. In the NFL games that followed, several teams linked arms while other teams chose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. More players were also seen to be kneeling. Commenting on the origin of the “Take the Knee” movement, Brooks says, “I think that it is up to us as individuals to talk about what the movement [and] what this protest is about. The narrative, unfortunately, has been switched by the president and other people. They’re trying to frame it as a protest that is disrespecting the United States flag or disrespecting the anthem, and thus the military and [what] all of America stands for when in actuality it’s a protest. “It’s a way of protest that was used during the Civil Rights movement with Dr [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and others on numerous occasions…. That’s what the Take the Knee protest is about, protesting injustice, in particular, racial injustice. It has nothing to do with the flag.  “People who have participated in the protests are veterans [and] from all walks of people. What people can do is correct the narrative. Be sure to correct people when they mistakenly think it’s about something else. Talk to people about it and decide how they can support anyone – in this case NFL players – in exercising their First Amendment right to protest.” Brooks, who grew up in Oakland, California, first joined the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2004 as director of Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a Teaching Tolerance program which aimed to help break down racial, cultural and social barriers in schools. Before this, she worked for 12 years in several roles for the National Conference for Community and Justice in its Los Angeles office. She says, “I grew up very much aware of the racial oppression of the United States and fortunately found a way to channel that, to help advance equality and equity for African-Americans. That has, over the course of my life, exposed me to the inequities that people suffer because of who they are. So, that’s just really important to me in my life. It’s my life. It’s my work. It’s what I’m dedicated to: trying to end injustice or call out injustice.” Lecia Brooks was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Chris Lehmann – American justice is still a model for the world – but a flawed model
Chris Lehmann in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Chris Lehmann – American justice is still a model for the world – but a flawed model
Oscar Tollast 
Chris Lehmann, executive director of the Central and East Europe Law Institute (CEELI), is inspired to improve the world and spread justice. Speaking at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), he says, “My father was an Episcopal priest, and I think he just had a very clear idea of what was right and wrong. I think you can either spend your life trying to make the world a better place or not.” Lehmann’s decision to attend the 15th SSASA symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – was in part thanks to Salzburg Global Program Director Charles Ehrlich. Lehmann says, “Charles has been up to Prague several times to my Institute and had been wanting to get me down here, which I was eager to do. This session seemed particularly relevant, partly because there would be quite a bit of focus on transatlantic legal issues –, European perspectives of America –, but with a lot of that focus being on our criminal justice system. So, it was kind of a perfect fit for me.” The CEELI Institute, based in Prague, was established to advance the rule of law in the world. Lehmann, who previously worked for the US Department of Justice, has served as its executive director since 2014. The Institute works with judges and lawyers from around the world on matters relating to comparative law, judicial issues, and human rights. Reflecting on justice in the US, Lehmann says, “The US, obviously, in some ways continues to be a model for the rest of the world, but it is a very flawed model.” Lehmann highlights the “extensive use of plea bargaining” and “police issues” as two areas in the US that require further attention. His hope in attending this symposium was to see how others around the world viewed these issues, which would help him assess where the US is today, whether the country still  has a system viewed as worth emulating. As of September, Lehmann believes this view is a “very mixed bag.” He says. “There are theoretical aspects of the US justice system which continue to be aspirational, but I think there are some deep flaws that are making a lot of people in Europe skeptical of US solutions.” The CEELI Institute is based at the Villa Grébovka, a historic building that dates back to 1871. The Institute was founded in 1999 and has provided post-graduate legal education and exchange to more than 5,000 legal professionals. Lehmann says the Institute has found it very valuable to bring people together for several days and allow them to step out of their lives and focus on the topic at hand. Noting the similarity with Salzburg Global Seminar, Lehman says, “I think you’ve recognized that some of the best discussions go on at the coffee hours, at the meals, and in the evenings, and in strolling around the parks. It’s not just what takes place in the sessions. “If you go to a conference somewhere at a hotel, you don’t necessarily have quite that sense of convening. There’s just a huge value to a serene setting like this. It puts people at ease, it relaxes them, and it just allows this sort of dawn till dusk conversation to go on in and out of formal settings. “There are lots of different learning styles. Some people will be on their feet in the classroom, and there are other people that are much more comfortable having a quiet conversation over a cup of coffee after the session is over. This really enables everybody to kind of be drawn into the discussion.” Chris Lehmann was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Elaine May - Despite Being Preoccupied with Safety, Americans Have Made Themselves Less Secure
Elaine May at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Elaine May - Despite Being Preoccupied with Safety, Americans Have Made Themselves Less Secure
Oscar Tollast 
Elaine May is no stranger to the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), nor is it her first time at Schloss Leopoldskron. The professor and author last attended a SSASA symposium in 2012 – Screening America: Film and Television in the 21st Century, which was her fourth time at the Schloss. She says, “I’ve been here before, and I’ve always found it very exciting, intellectually stimulating, beautiful, luxurious [and] delicious. It’s always a wonderful experience. I especially love having the opportunity to discuss issues that pertain to the United States with people from other countries, because I learn so much from their perspective.” May was speaking having returned just under five years later for her fifth visit for the SSASA symposium, Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration to hear how other countries’ citizens perceived the new American administration under President Donald J. Trump. She also provided the key note presentation on the first evening of the symposium, titled, “The American Dream and the Quest for Security – the Promise and the Perils.” Among the points May made was that the United States had a “crisis in democracy,” and that the American Dream has been problematic since the beginning of the Second World War. While it’s since been possible for members of the middle class and working class to achieve material aspects of the American Dream, they live in fear that dream could be taken away from them in an instant, she says. May, Regents professor of American studies and history, and chair of the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, says, “That level of anxiety and fear – that was first manifest in the atomic age and in the Cold War – has taken various forms over the rest of the 20th Century, and now into the 21st. That has kind of conditioned Americans to live in a world in which they always feel that they are in danger. That leads to a breakdown of belief and investment in the common good, and in a kind of mistrust in the government to work on behalf of all citizens, and in a fear and suspicion of strangers – whoever those strangers are.” This fear has changed the way Americans live their daily lives, according to May. It changed the way citizens vote and how they envisage their nation’s identity. In short, May says this has had a long-term effect on undercutting democracy. She adds, “Americans have become quite preoccupied with issues of safety and security since the early Cold War… Everything they have done to try to make themselves more safe and secure has made them less safe and secure.” Expanding on this point, May says US citizens have become so preoccupied looking over their shoulder that they’ve failed to notice what is happening in front of them and the growing influence of the country’s elite one percent. She says, “Keeping a gun in their pocket wasn’t going to prevent [people] from metaphorically losing their shirts to Wall Street and other big money financial institutions that are really robbing them – not somebody walking behind them on the street.” May’s keynote drew several responses from participants, one of whom suggested a hate narrative was more dominant in the US than the fear narrative. Responding to this suggestion, May says, “I think the two are very related. I think that the hate comes out of fear. If we really knew each other, you wouldn’t fear each other. Hate is a stronger more aggressive stand than fear. Fear feels weak, and hate feels strong.” As a past president of the Organization of American Historians and the American Studies Association, May’s interest in her country’s history cannot be questioned. Her interest in US history first bloomed when she lived in Japan as a student in 1968. She says, “I hadn’t really understood how important it would be for me to know my own national history until I lived abroad as an American, and I had to speak as an American, and I had to represent a country that I was profoundly alienated from in 1968 between the Vietnam War and all the other horrible things that were happening at the time. I had to speak for my country – not just as a person who saw herself as among the dissenters within the country but as the citizen of the United States that was wreaking havoc all over Asia, including Japan. “I thought I better learn something. I went back to the US and started taking US history courses, which I hadn’t really done much of. When I graduated a year later, I felt I didn’t really know enough. I had applied for the Peace Corps and got in but realized I had nothing to teach anybody until I knew more. I thought I better go to graduate school. Then I went to graduate school, and then I kind of just got on the train.” Her graduate school days are now long behind her and she certainly now has a lot more to teach people. In addition to her work as a professor, May has authored several books, most recently Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (2017) and America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation (2010). Alongside multi-time Salzburg Global Fellow Reinhold Wagenleitner, she also co-edited Here, There, and Everywhere: The Foreign Politics of American Popular Culture (2000), a collection of essays that originated at a Salzburg Global session. Elaine May was a participant of the Salzburg Global Program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA. 
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Dragan Vukotic – We Need to Remember the Founding Principle of Journalism: Facts are Sacred and Comments are Free
Dragan Vukotic – We Need to Remember the Founding Principle of Journalism: Facts are Sacred and Comments are Free
Oscar Tollast 
Dragan Vukotic has always been quite curious about American studies. His decision to attend the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association - Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration - was prompted by a desire to widen his knowledge about US culture, politics and society. In his position as head of the foreign desk at Serbia’s leading daily newspaper Politika, his curiosity with the US has played to his advantage. During the 2016 US presidential election, Vukotic was tasked with explaining the events to Serbian readers. Based in the US, he spoke to some experts to provide further clarity. Speaking at Salzburg Global, Vukotic says, “I’m pretty much interested in the division in American society, especially in the aspect of media because that’s my background... What strikes me is that the American media are so divided that you must choose: are you left-wing media or are you right-wing media?” Vukotic suggested there was little common ground between each faction and the situation reminded him of something he had witnessed in Serbia, “where a division is so strong that you, for example, cannot be a voter for some party from the left and, at the same time, say something good about some aspect of politics from the right, which is not a good thing.” He adds, “I think that we need to remember the founding principle of journalism that facts are sacred and comments are free.” The 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association set out to explore topics such as racial issues, immigration, populism, wealth, media, legal rights, civil rights, and criminal law. Vukotic doesn’t believe there’s one pressing issue deserving of everyone's attention, but a combination. He called for the US to focus more on bridging existing divides and to prevent the social fabric from being torn apart. In addition to the US and Serbia, Vukotic has reported from China, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Armenia. He is a regular contributor for several Serbian and Balkan regional radio and TV stations. In 2017, one term that was difficult to ignore was “fake news,” defined by Collins Dictionary as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Less than two months after Vukotic spoke to Salzburg Global, Collins Dictionary named it as their official World of the Year. Fake news is something Vukotic has experienced in Serbia. He says, “I’m a big fan of social media and all that stuff. You can read a lot of good things on Twitter and on Facebook, but those [mediums], which are [mediums] of course, helped a lot in producing fake news. One can just imagine some fake news, give it an inflammatory title, put it online, and in the course of 10 minutes, or a day, a million people will share it. It’s a dangerous trend for journalism.” Vukotic first joined Politika as a reporter at the metro desk in October 2007. He wanted to be a journalist because he saw it as a “free profession.” He says, “You’re free to move from one place to another to talk to interesting people. It’s actually a really common profession, but you have an opportunity to talk with some uncommon people. So, that’s a privilege, and at some point in your career, you realize that journalism actually has a really big impact on society. So, that’s a really big privilege but also more challenging and a big responsibility.” Speaking on the second day of the symposium, Vukotic confirmed he had already been left inspired by a presentation given by Elaine Tyler May, Regents professor of American studies and history, and chair of the Department of History, at the University of Minnesota. Her talk was titled, “The American Dream and the Quest for Security - the Promise and the Perils.” Vukotic says, “She raised the questions about causes of the processes, not consequences. That’s what I’m interested in as a journalist, just to try to figure out what’s the main cause for what’s going on. We all know who [Donald] Trump is, all about his hair, his messy remarks, and everything, but we need to be more focused more on which trends led to his election.” Dragan Vukotic was a participant of the Salzburg Global session Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Asif Efrat – The new U.S. administration has shown less interest in international cooperation
Asif Efrat at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Asif Efrat – The new U.S. administration has shown less interest in international cooperation
Mirva Villa 
In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report on “The Globalization of Crime.” The report examined 16 crime problems, 13 of which were deemed intercontinental. An extract from the report’s conclusion reads: “From a global perspective, national or even regional efforts made in isolation can be worse than ineffective, they can be counterproductive, as the problem is pushed from regions that pose resistance to those that do not, or cannot.” More can be achieved together by working alone . The buzzword of the time, however, is “sovereignty” – something which does not align well with international cooperation. That’s the view of Asif Efrat, an associate professor of government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), in Herzliya, Israel. He spoke to Salzburg Global while attending the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA ). At various points in recent history, the United States has been considered the world policeman but rhetoric expressed by President Donald Trump during his election campaign and first months in office have prompted many people question whether this role would change. What effect might this have on the efforts to limit transnational crime? Efrat, author of Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation Against Illicit Trade believes it will take time for the implications to reveal themselves. Commenting in general, however, he said, “This administration has signaled that it has less interest in international cooperation .” In his book, Efrat focuses on the illicit arms trade, the trade in looted antiquities, and human trafficking. He said, “There are some people who say that globalization has a ‘dark side’: the rise of global crime. This  is one of the undesired side effects of globalization and in the recent years, governments have been trying to work together to try and address problems of transnational crime. These efforts of suppressing transnational crime are the center of my analysis.” Since taking office, despite his rhetoric on the campaign trail, President Trump has reaffirmed the US’s commitment to NATO. He also made his first address at the UN general assembly where he said countries must “work together and confront together” others who threaten with chaos, turmoil, and terror . On both occasions, however, Trump also referred to the cost burdens the US has carried. The  concern remains that diminishing international cooperation is still a possibility. The picture remains unclear. Most of the international initiatives against international crime have been led by the US, says Efrat. If there is less leadership shown from the US, Efrat believes this will not bode well for international cooperation in general. “The international regime against drugs has been led by the United States since the beginning of early 20th century. International efforts against money laundering, international efforts against human trafficking – these are all American initiatives. [They are] very important American initiatives in my view, and I’m concerned that the new administration has much less interest in international cooperation.” The US justice system as seen from abroad In addition to assessing the international role and responsibilities of the US, this year’s symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – saw participants reflect on the US justice system in several ways . There were rich discussions around issues of legal rights, immigration policy and discrimination, and changes in policy over the past seven decades. During the symposium, Efrat led a small group discussion on how the US justice system was perceived from abroad, drawing on his current research examining ethnocentric views on legal standards and justice. In his work, Efrat examines how countries view foreign legal systems and the extent they are willing to cooperate with them. The US justice system is not looked upon favorably by other countries, Efrat has found: “There are various attributes of American justice that are seen as completely unjust to foreign audiences. One is the very harsh American attitude towards criminal justice. “The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world… America locks up many people for very long periods of time. American sentencing policies are seen as very unjust.” Efrat said the use of juries during trials also raised eyebrows among foreign audiences. He said, “For Americans, a trial by jury is the ultimate expression of justice: you’re being tried by your peers. But for foreign audiences, juries are sometimes the exact opposite of justice .” In many countries, a judge or panel of judges decide the guilt of a defendant – seen as some non-Americans as fairer than a jury of non-professionals. Salzburg Global spoke to Efrat the day after the symposium’s keynote presentation was given by Elaine T. May, Regents professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota. The talk was titled “The American Dream and the Quest for Security – the Promise and the Perils.” Reflecting on the keynote, Erat says, “It identified this kind of broad theme of fear in American society, and the interests that are driving this fear. It helped to put the current administration – the current mood in the United States – into a broader perspective, and I think this is one of the nice things about this seminar.” “We tend to think of our times as very unique, and very special, but you can see that this is actually part of a much broader historical trend.” Asif Erat was a participant of the Salzburg Global session Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Judge Nancy Gertner - "Lawyers should effect social change"
Judge Nancy Gertner in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
Judge Nancy Gertner - "Lawyers should effect social change"
Mirva Villa 
Known for her work in advancing civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the United States (U.S), Judge Nancy Gertner remains a trailblazer for women working in the legal profession. Her work, first as a criminal defense lawyer and later a federal judge, received many acknowledgements from her peers, not least the American Bar Association who awarded her the Thurgood Marshall Award in 2008. Her appearance at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association was a perfect fit for the program’s topic – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration. Alongside others, the now retired Judge Gertner spent five days discussing issues of justice, discrimination, criminal law and legal rights. For Gertner, now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, the experience was “remarkable.” “When I came, I had only read the biographies of the people who were invited – both the other participants and the seminar leaders – and I don’t think I fully understood how accomplished, cosmopolitan and interesting they were,” said Gertner. “So, the ability to talk to people and get a sense of the depth of their background was wonderful.” Gertner has had an extensive career in the legal profession and has written widely about employment, criminal justice and procedural issues. But what was the original spark that inspired Gertner to enter the profession in the first place? “Well, I think I wanted to run for president of the United States. Then I figured that you had to be a lawyer in order to get to be a senator first. I got stuck at the first stage!” Gertner laughed. “But you know, I love public policy issues. I went to law school at the time that the civil rights movement was at its height, and women's movement, and anti-war movement –  and lawyers were the vehicle for social change. So that's how I became interested in it.” Mass incarceration was one of the issues that was discussed at this year’s SSASA symposium. Toward the end of 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union reported more than 2.2 million people in the U.S. were behind bars. Gertner spoke to participants about mass incarceration and the structures in the justice system that had exacerbated it. “For a 100 years, the principal purpose of sentencing was rehabilitation. Rehabilitation was essentially using a medical model to deal with crime. Other kinds of professions also went through this. The judge was looking for a cure. The belief was that everyone could be cured, and the idea was that he would come up with ways of solving the crime in a way: not just finding the perpetrator but solving the criminal - and that judges had virtually unlimited discretion to figure out what the appropriate sentence would be.” Things changed in the 1980s, due to a whole host of factors. There was a spike in the crime statistics and the implications of the Vietnam War stayed in the American people’s minds. The public were concerned about discrimination in sentencing and the discretion of judges to cast sentences. The media became increasingly focused on covering crime. Toward the end of the decade, the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” appeared in the lexicon and became a mantra for many. “Suddenly, we essentially rejected rehabilitation as a rationale for sentencing, and moved to retribution,” said Gertner. “So, rehabilitation asks, ‘What will help the offender not offend anymore?’ Retribution asks, ‘What does the crime deserve?’ So, it was a very different question and it led to different answers, and the answer is that retribution led to mass incarceration.” The concern over the discretion of judges and inconsistencies between sentences issued across the U.S. led to the creation of a set of guidelines that provided objective standards for sentencing. “That essentially is to wish there was no judgment, no discretion.  So, you focused on the nature of the crime, and you focused on the nature of someone's criminal record,” said Gertner. That would, for example, lead to drug-related cases being judged on the basis of the quantity of the substance and past convictions alone, with no regard to the individual’s situation and the judge’s discretion on whether they thought the accused was likely to re-offend. Gertner said, “You focused on objective factors that [some] believed could be objectively enforced. Of course that wasn't true. Those objective factors were often the product of decisions made by others down the line, which we're not so objective.” In 2011, Gertner published her memoirs, fittingly entitled In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate. Now, she’s working on another book about judging –  not an aspirational one but one on the "hard work of judging." More specifically, she will be reflecting on her own experiences as a judge, working in a system that she didn’t always deem to be fair. For her book, Gertner reached out to some of the people she had sentenced to find out what happened to them. “I found it easiest to write about the people I had sentenced because that was a situation in which I was most acutely aware of the difference between my beliefs and what the law required,” Gertner said. “I was obliged to impose mandatory minimum sentences. I was obliged to use mandatory guidelines. And I felt the difference between what I was obliged to do and what I believed in all the time. So, this book is about the men that I sentenced.” The book paints the portraits of several men, who they were, what Gertner learned about them and the legal framework she had to use to evaluate them. Moreover, the book discusses how they should have been sentenced in a “humane system”, according to Gertner. “These are portraits that will help us understand how punitive and inhumane the system became.” Gertner was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Since retiring in 2011, she has continued to teach subjects including criminal law, criminal procedure, forensic science and sentencing, and has written about women’s issues around the world. Whether she’s in the court room, the lecture hall or writing her book, her work continues to be a source of inspiration for Gertner. “I believe that lawyers should effect social change. That's what animates me as a lawyer, as a judge, as a professor. These are remarkable tools and a remarkable education that should be used to serve the public good.” Judge Nancy Gertner was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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Dreamscape – Exploring race and justice in America
Rickerby Hinds at the Salzburg Seminar for American Studies Association
Dreamscape – Exploring race and justice in America
Mirva Villa 
Ahead of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), participants were warned to expect a “highly participatory” four-day program. Daily thematic presentations, plenary discussions, and panels on topical issues were all designed for participants to debate life and justice in the US. at a theoretical and analytical level. A special performance of Rickerby Hinds’ Dreamscape in Schloss Leopoldskron’s Great Hall midway through the program helped bring these issues further to life. The play depicts the final moments of a young African-American woman shot by the police while sleeping in her car. Mixing the elements of beat-boxing, hip hop, dance and poetry, the award-winning performance tells the life story of Myiesha Mills, who dreams through the impact of the 12 bullets that kill her. The play is a meditation and reimagining of the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998 in Riverside, California. Hinds, the writer and director behind Dreamscape, revealed the incident inspired him to tell a wider story. “In 2004, I decided to write a play that would address that issue of the relationship between the African-American community and the police,” Hinds said. “I went back to the Tyisha Miller incident and decided that this will be a good vehicle for exploring this issue, for a couple of reasons. One, because she was a young woman, and two, because there was enough information for there to be a dramatic exploration of the relationship, so it wasn’t so black and white. There were gray areas to allow the conversation to be a little more nuanced.”   Prior to the performance, participants at this year’s SSASA symposium had already begun to reflect on legal rights, justice, and racial issues in the US. The fact Dreamscape was performed at a symposium discussing the very issues his play was addressing made Hinds a “little bit more nervous than usual.” Hinds said, “As the director, you’re always thinking about how the play would land on your audience who have studied these issues, who are scholars and experts on the field. Plus, we had met our audience, so we knew them! It’s very unusual!” Dreamscape’s current cast includes Natali Micciche and John “Faahz” Merchant. Both have been performing the show for about five years, both in the US and abroad. Discussing her performance as Myiesha, Micciche said: “It was absolutely beautiful. It was a great interlude, sitting in the presentations, talking about this subject and the topics, and then [to] go and perform, because the energy is heightened around the subject and everybody is fully invested. “The reception was great. It’s more than I could ask for. It’s always moving. In a space where I can see the audience it’s super effective because you watch people and their emotions. Afterwards it was just great to hear feedback on my movement and my artistry.” Merchant, who played the role of a police officer and a dispassionate coroner, incorporated his beat-boxing talents to help create the play’s unique soundscape. “It was probably one of the most exciting and exhilarating feelings,” Merchant said. He added it was great to see their work transcend across different audiences – even 6,000 miles away from home. “It’s a great feeling because it means that our work over the past years has been doing what it’s supposed to do.” The Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.
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