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Exploring a blog’s ‘Innermost Parts’

Published: October 3, 2008
Section: Front Page


On Sept. 18, Phil Lacombe ’10 wrote a post on the blog www.innermostparts.org entitled “A great day for Brandeis Progressives.”

Lacombe’s post, written the day Adam Hughes ’11 was elected Vice-President of the Student Union, started, “It’s a great day for the Progressive Party (if you can call it that.).”

He continued to say that he perceived the “Progressive Party” to have a serious voting block in the senate (at the time, the “party” held five of the nine occupied senate seats), and ended saying “A good Progressive is always looking ahead…we must remember that the regularly-scheduled fall elections are still to come, and that those seats will determine the control of the senate.”

Lacombe’s post received one of the largest responses in the blog’s history. Almost all of the 18 comments about it were by Innermost Parts writers insisting that there was no such thing as a “Progressive Party” at Brandeis.

Despite the post’s backlash, Lacombe continues to insist that Innermost Parts is, in fact, a political party at Brandeis.

As he wrote in his post, Hughes is not the first Innermost Parts-endorsed candidate to win a Student Union election.

In fact, every candidate that the less than one-year-old blog has endorsed (Class of 2011 Senators, Alex Melman and Lev Hischorn and Senator at Large Noam Shuster ’11, along with Hughes) has won.

Hughes’ campaign manager and North Quad Senator, Andy Hogan ’11, and another writer for the blog, Nathan Robinson ’11, Castle Quad Senator, were elected to the senate last week.

Additionally, Lacombe cited two other senators in his post whom he believes are “Progressive”— Senator for Racial Minority Students, Kamaran Lee ’12, and Class of 2010 senator, Paul Balik.

According to Lacombe, there are currently seven “Progressive” senators in a Student Senate of 21—meaning that the “Progressive Party” has one-third of the vote.As it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a resolution in the Senate, having a voting block which controls one-third of the senate would give the “Progressive Party,” and potentially Innermost Parts, a considerable influence in the Senate.

The issue of whether or not Innermost Parts constitutes a Political Party is one that neither the writers of the blog nor other Student Union members agree upon.

Either way, the idea that an institution that is so young (it was founded in December of 2007) could potentially have this amount of influence is one which surprises and sometimes frightens both sides of the debate.

Innermost Parts’ story is not so much about Brandeis’ first labeled political party as it is about an organization, which started as a protest against the Brandeis administration and Student Union, increasingly finding itself in cahoots with the very organizations it protested less than a year ago.

In the Beginning

Innermost Parts was created last December as a “spin off” of Democracy For America after the university administration made it clear that the campus police were to be armed, Lacombe said.

Lacombe (who is currently president of DFA but was not at the time), along with other DFA members had founded another spin off of DFA called Students Opposed to the Decision to Arm, or SODA.

SODA’s aim was to convince the administration not to arm the campus police by gathering petition signatures.

When the group presented the petition—which had 830 undergraduate signatures, along with 16 staff and 20 faculty members’ signatures—to President Jehuda Reinharz and were still rejected, they decided to bring the petition to the Student Union Senate and ask that a resolution be written opposing the decision to arm.

The senate turned down the request.

According to a comment written by Rivka Maizlish ’10 one senator told the group that their “voicing frustration over the administration’s procedures was ‘disgraceful’ and that we should ‘just focus on your homework.’”

Maizlish also wrote that another senator would not vote for the resolution because “‘what about all the students that DON’T want their voices heard by the administration? What about THEM?’”

SODA was outraged by the Union’s decision. But they were not angered simply because the Senate would not support the resolution; they were angered because of the Senate’s reasoning.

“We saw a Student Union that was unwilling to take a contradictory opinion to the administration,” Lacombe said. “And it was frustrating because they are the primary voice of the students who get to speak with the administration. They were fine with making committees about getting bikes on campus, but this showed that they were unwilling to act in a real way.”

So Sahar Massachi ’11 and Alex Melman ’11 decided to start a blog about Brandeis issues.

Massachi, who has been blogging since high school, said that while he had always wanted to start a blog with Brandeis as its focus, he hadn’t been motivated until “the Senate put the kibosh on the guns resolution.”

They decided to call the blog “Innermost Parts,” a phrase taken from the university’s motto—“Truth even unto its innermost parts.”

The blog started in December. The first post, entitled “Why we fight,” explains the blog’s origins, and describes it as a forum for Progressive discussion at Brandeis.

“Something is rotten in the campus of Brandeis,” Massachi wrote in the post. “Those guiding the course of this University have abandoned the core values that make our namesake great…Louis Brandeis was a champion of the people against the powerful…Brandeis was, in short, a Progressive.”

“We have forgotten Louis’ lesson,” he continued. “Louis Brandeis believed in Social Justice, real Democracy, freedom of Expression, and self-determination. So do we. Louis Brandeis was a Progressive. So are we. Is our University?”

The Center of Controversy

The last line of the second ever post on Innermost Parts (by Massachi and Melman) reads: “you and I can be just as powerful a voice as those with fancy titles.”

The post, entitled “We. Are. INNERMOSTPARTS!”, was written on Dec. 13.

While the line was written as a call to battle, and a recruitment tool to convince readers of the blog to become writers, within four months of its being posted, Innermost Part’s voice was being heard by “those with fancy titles.”

The blog hadn’t been extraordinarily popular in its first three months. According to the blog’s site meter, it had only 93 site visits in February, two months into its existence.

In April, the number of site visits sky rocked, to 2,669 visits—a figure which Massachi attributes to the blog’s coverage of the Senator at Large elections. In those elections, only two candidates’ names were on the primary round ballot, Andrew Brooks ’09 and Justin Sulsky ’09. The two were running on a combined ticket.

Unhappy with the choices once the deadline for signing up to run had passed, Noam Shuster ’11 and Kaamila Mohamed ’11 decided to start a “write-in” campaign.

When Innermost Parts heard about Shuster’s campaign, they endorsed her, and started writing posts in her favor, and against Sulsky and Brooks.

Shuster, along with Sulsky, won the election, leaving Brooks in defeat.

Shuster said she attributes her win to Innermost Parts.

“I didn’t know about the blog until someone told me they were endorsing me, but I love them now,” she said. “I am honored that they spoke up for me. I couldn’t have won without them.”

Massachi too believes that Innermost Parts played a big role in Brooks’ defeat.

“We did tip the balance in that election. Without us, Noam probably wouldn’t have been elected,” he said.

Brooks thought that the blog influenced his defeat as well, and filed a suit with the Union Judiciary against then Union Secretary Chief of Elections, Nelson Rutrick ’09.

According to the May 2 issue of The Hoot, “Brooks alleged that Rutrick ‘was not enforcing the rules’ regarding libel, slander, and campaign requirements.”

Brooks cited Innermost Parts as one of two instances where Rutrick had failed to enforce the libel and slander rules.

On the blog a post had been written by Hughes (Shuster’s campaign manager at the time) stating that Brooks and Sulsky were “backward reactionaries.”

Writing about January’s Patriotic Display Resolution, Hughes stated, “Compare this with Justin Sulsky and Andrew Brooks’ horrible records (I know I said I wouldn’t, but I just can’t help it!)…Authoring and being the only two senators to vote for the ridiculously partisan American Flag resolution [and] doing absolutely nothing about almost every key progressive issue like endowment transparency and gender neutral housing (at least not to judge by their project reports).”

When Rutrick discovered that Brooks, in fact, did not authorize the Patriotic Display Resolution, he wrote Shuster, Mohamed, Hughes and Massachi an e-mail, warning them against slander and libel. (Innermost Parts now has a correction on this post, which otherwise remains intact. The words “horrible” and “infamously” have been struck out, but

are still visible,

something Massachi

said signifies that the

author of the post

believes that writing

those words was a

mistake, but does not

want to pretend they were never written.)

To Brooks, this action was inadequate, and he requested that the UJ disqualify Mohamed and Shuster as write-in candidates and declare Brooks and Sulsky the winners of the election.

In May, the UJ decided to hear the case, and, as a result, Shuster’s swearing in was delayed until the hearing was over.

At the center of the controversy, Innermost Parts gained even more momentum, with one of its founders, Melman, live-blogging the trial.

“Of course I was on their side and they were on mine, but it couldn’t be official so that the UJ wouldn’t find out and so that I would win,” Shuster said.

Shuster was not sworn in as Senator at large until May, after the UJ ruled against Brooks. When the controversy was over, Shuster emerged as Senator at large, and Innermost Parts emerged as, what Massachi calls, a “political force” on campus—jumping from 2,669 site visits in April, to 3,135 site visits in May.

Online Discussion, Offline Results

Shuster was not the only senator Innermost Parts endorsed in the spring. The blog also endorsed Class of 2011 senator candidates Alex Melman and Lev Hirschorn—both of whom write for the blog.

According to Massachi, one of the founders of the blog and the writer with the most posts to date, he decided Innermost Parts should endorse candidates because of his disappointment in the Student Union’s behavior.

“Listening to [the Student Union] last year just made you think ‘Why the hell are they even here?’ Massachi said. “We want an activist Student Union—one with a backbone—last year’s Union didn’t represent that.”

Since the beginning of the academic year, Innermost Parts’ influence has only grown. In September, there were 63 posts on the blog, the largest number in the blogs history (beating March’s 58).

There were also 3,859 site visits, also a new record for the blog. Lacombe, who writes for the blog, attributes the site’s increased readership to the combined effects of the special Vice Presidential election, and the regular Senate elections.

“Innermost Parts thrives on elections. There’s no question about it,” Lacombe said. “We’ve definitely created a buzz. Both about itself and the election,” he continued. “It’s gotten people interested in who gets elected.”

In the Vice Presidential election, Innermost Parts endorsed one of its writers, Adam Hughes.

Hughes said that he decided to run for Student Union Vice President because he “felt there was no candidate running who shared the same priorities that not only I have, but that a majority of Brandeis students had.”

While Hughes ran against three candidates – Andrew Brooks, Gustavo Pardo ’10 and Christina Khemraj ’09 – Innermost Parts’ discussion of the election, and Hughes’ campaign focused mainly on Hughes and Brooks.

“We are definitely influential,” Massachi said. “We talked about that race like it was just Adam and Brooks who were running, and they were the ones who made it to the final round. That’s probably why – we talked about it, so people expected those two to be in a show down and only voted for them.”

Student Union President Jason Gray ’10 said that he didn’t know exactly how much influence Innermost Parts has had on Student Union politics.

He did, however acknowledge “they’ve done a good job of coordinating online communications with offline activism.”

Or, as Lacombe put it, “we have more force in elections than ever.”

Defining a Party

According to Lacombe, who wrote the original post about the Brandeis Progressive Party, Innermost Parts’ force in elections suggests that it is a political party.

Lacombe also said that Innermost Parts fulfils the three characteristics of a political party, as he learned it in his American Government class at Brandeis.

“Parties have to have one, an electorate, two, an organization and three, people in government who vote together,” he said. “Innermost Parts has the first one—all of the writers define themselves as progressive, that’s a constituency with generally the same ideologies. It has an organization—Innermost Parts and related people have, in the past, organized to get people elected, like Noam and Adam. And Innermost Parts definitely has people in government.”

Lacombe continued to say that while it still remains to be seen whether or not the candidates whom Innermost Parts have endorsed will vote in a block, he is “pretty confident that they will vote together.”

Lacombe’s assertions, however, have been met with opposition on the part of many of the blog’s writers.

“I think you can define words however you want, but it doesn’t mean that we’re a political party,” Adam Hughes said. “I wouldn’t be ashamed of using the term political party if I thought it was what we are trying to do, but that label is completely foreign to what’s really going on.”

Hughes also questioned why it was Innermost Parts that was considered a party, and not DFA, saying that it was “cherry picking” to decide that one was and not the other since they are deeply connected.

Lacombe disagreed. “We share people, but if you look at the timing of everything, progressives started getting elected into the Union since the founding of Innermost Parts,” he said. “Also, DFA concentrates primarily on national politics.”

Massachi also denied that the blog constitutes a political party, saying that political parties create divisions and are “nefarious sounding.”

But to Andrew Brooks, who views himself as the two-time victim of Innermost Parts’ partisanship, the blog does divide the campus. “They are promoting narrow-minded thinking,” he said. “They are a political party because they have an ideological agenda of ‘progressivism’ and they have a litmus test to meet, and if you don’t meet their test, they oppose you.”

Massachi denied the allegation that the members of the blog have a litmus test, citing the fact that anyone can write a comment on the blog (Brooks himself has done so) and that he has never denied anyone’s request to become a writer on the blog.

In order to be confirmed, potential writers must e-mail Massachi and then have an interview-like “chat” with him to ensure that they “see eye to eye with us.”

The “chats” are mostly a formality, Massachi said, and mainly to ensure that “we aren’t letting secret conservative racists post anything,” he said. “I could control our message, but I don’t.”

As for whether or not he’d let Brooks, who says he is a Republican, post on the blog if asked, Massachi said, “I don’t like to engage in hypotheticals, but if I thought I trusted his ideology and thought it was in line with ours, then yes, I would.”

He continued, “But I just don’t think he sees eye to eye with us enough to be a progressive.”

Brooks, however, did not understand this reasoning.

“A progressive movement should be the most open-minded movement on campus,” he said. “but they are bigoted about party ideology, and that’s a sad reality to me, because even though I’m a Republican, I can be liberal too. They’d know that if they didn’t have this us versus them mentality.”

Lacombe also added that current “non-progressive” senators might have trouble grappling with the idea that they are not part of the “Progressive Party” on campus, because they may have voted for “progressive issues” like approving bikes on campus, or gender neutral housing.

“It’s different to spearhead the campaign for something and to just vote for it,” he said.

Overall, the debate in whether or not Innermost Parts makes up a political party rests in the ways in which the opposing sides define it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has no definition for “Political Party,” and other online dictionaries vary in their definition, leaving the question of categorizing Innermost Parts up in the air.

Gray said that the blog couldn’t be a political party because the bloggers themselves refuse to define it that way.

Lacombe, on the other hand, said that whether or not the blog wishes to define itself as a party, it still meets the criteria.

A Counter-Culture

Lacombe attributes the controversy behind his post to the idea that Innermost Parts was founded in opposition to the established Student Union and Senate.

The idea that an anti-establishment blog could be labeled a party—something that requires organization, and a title—is undesirable to those involved.

“The nature of this movement is anti-establishment,” he said. “Making us seem like an organized group is not something the candidates want. The backlash is because none of the currently elected progressive candidates want to be the establishment on campus.”

Indeed, both Massachi and Hughes alluded to the fact that they did not want to be seen as established.

“We’ve had talks about formally calling ourselves a political party,” Massachi explained, “but no one wants to have one. Political parties are establishments which naturally breed an us versus them mentality, they have officers, ranks—we have none of that, we’re very unorganized.”

Lacombe also added that while he doesn’t believe the blog is close to becoming the establishment, he can understand why others, like Brooks, could be concerned that Innermost Parts would become similar to that of the character Willie Stark from the novel All the King’s Men.

In the novel, Stark, based on the real-life politician, Huey Long, starts out as a progressive, anti-establishment candidate for Governor of Louisiana, but, upon gaining political power, becomes just as corrupt as the establishment he had fought to kick out of the government.

“It’s true, it could come to that,” he said.

To Lacombe, not only do Innermost Parts’ opponents see the All the King’s Men scenario as a possibility, but the blog’s writers do as well, saying “part of the reason why we’re popular is because we’re controversial, and we’re fighting the man.”

Brandeis: A Political History

Innermost Parts’ political influence in the past three elections has raised question both within the blog and among other students about whether or not it constitutes a political party, but this isn’t the first time potential political parties have existed.

Massachi said that one reason he opposed Brooks in the Senator at Large election is because he perceived him to be in one such bloc.

“I didn’t know much about him then,” Massachi said. “I just knew about the conservative voting block he was a part of and the harm which it had inflicted on the Student Union the past year.”

Brooks denies that he was ever a part of any political block, and said “they are calling for opposition against a conservative party of which there are no members.” Brooks did, however, say that the “past four Student Union Presidents were elected by machine politics,” referring to the fact that in each election, the elected President was endorsed and supported by the previous one.

“We do not need any more machines at Brandeis,” he said. “We need to end the era of machine politics.”

One of those presidents is Jason Gray. Gray, however, denied involvement with any sort of political party, and denied the existence of any political blocs in the union.He did, however, say that there are political organizations at Brandeis who make themselves known.

“People have political agendas of things they want to get done, and I expect them to push it,” he said. “If they didn’t, they aren’t living up to their potential.”

Lacombe, on the other hand, believed it naïve to think that Brandeis does not have political divisions.

“I just don’t think the senators know how to deal with Innermost Parts because they say the Senate is a non-partisan organization,” he said. “But it’s idealistic to think that any legislative or government body won’t have voting blocks.”

New-age Politics

And as a voting bloc, or political party, Innermost Parts is not like the others.

“Sure, there have been blocks in the Student Union before, it’s just that people hadn’t known about their existence because they didn’t have a website,” Lacombe explained. “It just wasn’t publicized.”

Massachi, on the other hand, maintained that Innermost Parts is not a party because it does not have an organized structure, or formal, physical Innermost Parts meetings.

And while Brooks cited Innermost Parts’ many volunteers who campaigned for Hughes as a reason for his defeat – “I just didn’t have the infrastructure,” he said – both Hughes and his campaign manager, Andy Hogan, said that those volunteers were largely unconnected to Innermost Parts.

Hogan, who organized the volunteers, said that only two of the 15 volunteers wrote for the blog and also said that he rarely reads the blog. While there was one post on Innermost Parts explicitly encouraging students to campaign for Hughes, Hogan said he recruited his volunteers via a Facebook message.

Lacombe, on the other hand, said that the nature of Brandeis Student Union elections negates Massachi’s arguments, saying that physical organization is not as important as online communication because students choose their representatives online.

“The difference between a Student Union election and the real world is that we vote online here,” he said. “So you can get your news about a candidate and their platform and five arguments about why you should vote for them and then actually vote for them all in the same place.”

“Talking to people about it in Usdan is good, but unless people have their computers with them, they can’t vote there anyway. It’s just as effective to reach them with the blog,” he said.

A New Media

Innermost Parts is not only charting new territory at Brandeis politically, but also in terms of the media as well.

As Gray noted, neither The Hoot nor the Justice allow their writers to be a part of the Student Union Senate or Executive Board, in an effort to keep their publications objective.

While both Lacombe and Massachi hold that Innermost Parts’ coverage is not entirely political or progressive (the blog has featured posts about what it means to be Jewish and architecture at Brandeis), they recognize that the blog does have a political purpose.

“The blog is our stump, it’s our megaphone,” Massachi said, comparing a student reading Innermost Parts to going to hear a candidate speak. “We inspire individuals to act.”

“It works such that the blog creates the buzz and pushes people to take action in a grassroots way,” Lacombe agreed. “Going door to door is important in an election, but innermost parts gives that extra push of instilling excitement into the electorate to inspire them to go out and act individually and get behind a campaign.”Andrew Brooks, on the other hand, believes that because the Blog is technically a form of media, it is dangerous because students might confuse it with an objective news outlet.

“Innermost Parts is only one side of the story,” he said. “Don’t make it your sole source of information. To not consider the other point of view goes against everying Louis D. Brandeis stood for.”

The Spirit of Brandeis

What all sides of the debate about Innermost Parts’ partisanship can agree on is that both sides have “the spirit of Brandeis” at heart. In interviews, both Massachi and Brooks claimed to embody Louis D. Brandeis’ vision and to understand that the other side is working with the best intentions.

“We gave Andrew Brooks a lot of shit, but he has the interest of the Student Union at heart,” Massachi said.

“Innermost Parts has definitely gotten more Brandeis students involved in Student Union elections, and that’s a positive thing,” Brooks said.

“I’m convinced that everybody here wants to make Brandeis a better place, they just want to do it in different ways,” Lacombe said.

Ultimately, Gray believes that Brandeis students need to take a step back and look at the situation.

“The Union is very, very real, and has the potential to make very very real change,” he said. “But only on a very very small scale.”

For more information on Innermost Parts, go to www.innermostparts.org.