The Inherent Inequality of How America Funds Public Schools

Across the country, poor and minority students face myriad challenges, including food insecurity, inadequate preventative health care or having primary care givers away from home for long hours due to multiple low-wage jobs. 

“The correlation between educational attainment and civic participation is strong and well-documented: educated citizens have more opportunities to obtain and exercise civic skills, are more interested in and informed about politics, and in turn, are more likely to vote” - Stanford 2017

“The correlation between educational attainment and civic participation is strong and well-documented: educated citizens have more opportunities to obtain and exercise civic skills, are more interested in and informed about politics, and in turn, are more likely to vote” -Stanford 2017

They also miss out on educational opportunities because they attend chronically underfunded schools. Due to an inherently unequal system of school funding across the country, predominantly white school districts received $23 billion more in state and local funding than nonwhite school districts in 2016.     

This alarming and excessive inequality in American public school funding stems from a basic design flaw: local taxes fund local schools. Thus, tax revenues in wealthier, mostly white, areas with higher property values generate significantly more money for schools, even when their tax rates are lower. Poor, more diverse, areas can attempt to levy taxes even to ridiculous levels (for example, Detroit’s effective property tax rate is a whopping 3.81%, versus Michigan’s overall rate of 1.5%) but still cannot produce enough money to send to schools. 

Those with Less get Less

This funding gap plays out between states, within states and sometimes even within school districts. Federal funding balances out some funding disparity, but that money is not meant to make up for state and local inequalities but rather to offset the extra costs of educating needy students. 

Because these funding gaps magnify racial disparities and often cement a student’s socioeconomic status before he or she finishes grade school, this issue belies the notion of the American dream as achievable for everyone. 

Systemically underfunded schools send a tiny fraction of their students on to higher education. In Chicago, 75 percent of public school students graduate from high school, but only 19 percent are projected to graduate from college within 10 years. Of those, the prospects for racial minorities are even worse: the school district anticipates only 10 percent of young black men and 13 percent of Latino men will earn a degree in that time. 

“Chicago Public Schools has been especially hard hit, with annual budget deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” - Washington Post

“Chicago Public Schools has been especially hard hit, with annual budget deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” -Washington Post

State by state, the amount spent per capita varies extremely, from Utah on the lowest end spending less than $7,000 per pupil in 2016, to New York spending more than three times that: $22,366. Even with cost of living differences across states, students from Utah and New York will eventually compete for admission to the same colleges and jobs at the same companies. How will their unequal K-12 educations have prepared them? 

The ability to so accurately predict a child’s college success rate based on race and zip code indicates of how deep and prevalent the problems of poverty and racial discrimination run. It elevates school funding equality as the most pressing civil rights issue of our day and makes equalizing school funding a key lever for a more just society. 

A $100,000 Difference

So, what does an inadequate education look and feel like for elementary and high school students? In Pennsylvania, where the funding gap between high-wealth and low-wealth districts is the largest in the nation and growing, it means nearly $4,000 more is spent per child per year, or nearly $100,000 more per year on a classroom of 25 students.  

It means more and better staff, facilities and resources such as curriculum and technology. 

Time and again studies have pointed to teacher quality as the largest determinant of student achievement. Disparate school funding means the students who already have the most advantages end up with the best educated, most experienced and highest paid teachers.  

In suburban Lower Merion, PA, the median household income is $127,125 and the poverty rate hovers near 5.2 percent. Here, teachers earn nearly $100,000 per year on average. With these salaries, Lower Merion schools can afford to attract and retain the best quality teachers who only get better with time. The average teacher in this school system boasts 15 years of experience and 92 percent have an advanced degree. 

“The proven long-term benefits of reducing class sizes—achievement gains and higher graduation.” - National Education Association

“The proven long-term benefits of reducing class sizes—achievement gains and higher graduation.” -National Education Association

Teacher vacancies happen infrequently not only because Lower Merion students and families less frequently face the desperate issues of homelessness, foster care, and discrimination, but also because Lower Merion teachers can afford to care for their own families on their generous salaries.

By contrast, just across City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, the median household income stands at $40,649 and a full quarter of the city’s residents, or about 400,000 people, live in poverty. Philadelphia’s teachers face challenges inherent in educating poor students, new arrivals to the United States and a high percentage of students with special needs. These students may present various misbehaviors, struggle with the effects of trauma, or be unwilling to trust new teachers who come and go so quickly. 

Instead of earning extra for meeting extra demands, Philadelphia’s teachers make far less money per year than their counterparts in Lower Merion. The average teacher’s salary is $67,000. As a result, the Philadelphia school district loses around 27 percent of its teachers each year due to burnout and attrition. So, year after year, the students who need the best, most experienced teachers, frequently get novice teachers who do not last in their schools or even the profession. 

Disparities in school funding can also be seen in school facilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, localities carry more than 80 percent of the burden for capital costs of building and improving schools. So, while wealthier areas have new school buildings or renovations featuring state of the art technology labs, tracks and swimming pools, poor areas suffer. 

“Right now, in many states, schools with the highest-need students receive fewer resources than those serving the most affluent,” - National Education Association

“Right now, in many states, schools with the highest-need students receive fewer resources than those serving the most affluent,” -National Education Association

Outdated and underfunded schools can also expose students to environmental risks that make them sick, such as exposure to lead paint, lead pipes and asbestos. The ceilings and roofs of these buildings sometimes leak, crumble or cave in, and temperature control issues reach dangerous levels as boiler systems fail to heat classrooms above 40 degrees in winter or 5-year-olds roast in un-air conditioned classrooms when the heat index tops 98 degrees. 

To top this all off, well-funded schools can afford more computers, counselors, psychologists, gifted and talented program coordinators, research-based, proven curriculums, and comprehensive training for teachers to effectively teach that curriculum. Underfunded schools cannot count on any of these resources. Sometimes they cannot even count on having the most basic learning tools, such as copy paper, pencils or pencil sharpeners. Teachers either pay out of pocket for these materials, raise money online through websites like donorschoose.org or simply go without. 

Equitable School Funding Starts at the Ballot Box

So, what can everyday citizens do to advocate for equal funding of all public schools and help students, teachers and families in these cash-strapped districts? 

First and foremost, participate in local, statewide and federal elections to support candidates who believe in public—not charter or voucher—education. Even seemingly esoteric contests for, say, state supreme court justices become vitally important when issues of free and fair public education arise.

For example, the supreme court of New Jersey ruled in 1985 and 1990 that the K-12 education offered in its poor communities was unconstitutionally subpar and ordered the state to fund a handful of poor school districts to the average level of the state’s wealthiest districts. 

“People with higher levels of education and higher income have lower rates of many chronic diseases compared to those with less education and lower income levels,” - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“People with higher levels of education and higher income have lower rates of many chronic diseases compared to those with less education and lower income levels,” -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Voting for and lobbying state legislators matters, too. Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a bipartisan fair funding formula in 2016 that accounts for students in poverty, those with special needs, or who are learning English as a second language and who leave for a district for charter schools. However, the state only distributes new money, or about 10 percent of state aid, according to this formula and distributes the other 90 percent based on 28-year-old student population data.

Obviously, voting for the nation’s highest office profoundly impacts school funding. Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, advocates dramatically underfunding all public schools in a bid to privatize education. She recently pushed to cut $7.1 billion from the federal education budget and instead divert up to $50 billion over ten years into school choice voucher systems and $500 million of federal aid to charter schools. These policies would have an outsized effect on schools relying heavily on federal funding due to inadequate state and local dollars. 

Inspiring and unlocking the potential of all our children through education improves our country’s morale and strengthens our economy. Too many bright students languish with their gifts unused—and will continue to until we give them the equal educational opportunities they deserve. 

They Wanted a Revolution and the Stonewall Uprising Brought One

On June 28, 1969, one of the most important moments in the history of the LGBTQ movement began in protest.

But the moment – the Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village – carried the same weight regarding the history of the gay rights movement as the impact the more peaceful sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter by the Greensboro Four had on civil rights.

It was something that started with a standard police raid, and turned into a revolution.

Before Stonewall

In the years before the Stonewall Inn was set to become infamous, the gay rights movement was quietly spreading across the country through organizations including the Mattachine Foundation, which was founded by activist Harry Hay, whose early partner was fellow activist Will Geer, who played Grandpa Zebulon Walton on the popular family drama “The Waltons.”

The group, and others, were in place as opposition against decades of oppression – years in prison, investigations during the McCarthy era, being forced to be closeted, losing employment after being outed, and rejection by family. The LGBTQ community was beginning to weave itself together, and the Mattachine Foundation and its peer groups stitched the first threads.

In 1967 – just after Pierre Trudeau moved to decriminalize homosexuality in Canada, saying government had no place in the bedroom and two years before Stonewall – Mike Wallace narrated the damning CBS documentary “The Homosexuals,” which gay advocate Wayne Besen, author of “Truth Wins Out” and born three years after the documentary aired, rightly called it “the single most destructive hour of antigay propaganda in our nation's history.”

It was not a good time to be gay in America. After the Stonewall riots, however, everything slowly began to change.

Why Stonewall became so important

At the time of the Stonewall riots, it was illegal to be gay everywhere in the nation but Illinois, which repealed such legislation in 1961, and those who were gay were officially classified as having a mental illness, which led people in the LGBTQ community to seek out their peers and find safe places to gather.

In New York City, one of those places was the Stonewall Inn.

Source:  Bowery Boys

Source: Bowery Boys

Police were arresting about 100 people a week in New York City for being gay, many of those people already ostracized from their families, homeless and alone on the streets of the largest city in the U.S.

For the beleaguered LGBTQ community, having a place they could gather was a solace, and despite the tight restrictions on the enforcement of anti-gay laws, they did manage to find ways to seek out establishments that were welcoming, including the Stonewall Inn.

While not completely invulnerable, Greenwich Village’s Stonewall was considered a safe place for the gay community. The establishment that sold bootleg liquor was Mafia-owned, and the place was separated into different sections and populated by many different groups. Despite some Mafia members used photographs to blackmail members of the LGBTQ community to pad their coffers, still, they came. 

"At first it was just a gay men's bar,” said drag queen Martha P. Johnson, one of the foremost figures in the Stonewall uprising, in a podcast interview in 1979 on Eric Marcus’s “Making Gay History.”

Eventually, however, women and drag queens joined the eclectic community that made up the clientele at the Stonewall Inn.

Stormé DeLarverie (Source:  GQ )

Stormé DeLarverie (Source: GQ)

At the time, the transgender community was still very closeted, despite the advocacy work Christine Jorgensen began in the early 1950s when she underwent gender reassignment surgery and landed on the front page of the New York Post, and most identified as drag queens for protection. 

The club was the only bar with dancing, so it was popular, and the Mafia paid off enough police officers that when raids were coming, the lights went up, a warning that law enforcement was on the premises ready to bully patrons, shoving them against the wall and brutalizing them as they searched.

On the Tuesday before the infamous June 28, 1969 raid, the NYPD Vice Squad had raided the Stonewall, but when they returned that Friday, the lights didn’t come up and the violations would have been bigger than before. Either way, an exasperated crowd had had enough.

Until it happened, the patrons of the Stonewall likely never realized they would become cemented in American history as a bold matchstick igniting the gay rights movement.

Stonewall, As It Happened

Police expected patrons to line up along the walls of the club and produce their IDs, for the drag queens, a way to prove their gender. Those without ID would be taken into another room and forced to prove their gender in a way that evokes images of a certain unsettling scene from the movie based on the life of Brandon Teena “Boys Don’t Cry.” 

Source:  The Independent

Few were interested in showing IDs or anything else, despite being viciously shoved, and Johnson threw her shot glass against a wall in protest, triggering insurgence inside.

Meanwhile, those who had escaped were outside, and word was spreading quickly through Greenwich Village that the Stonewall was being raided and people were being beaten and arrested.

One of those who emerged from the bar in handcuffs after being clubbed by police in a scuffle, Stormé DeLarverie, is believed to be the one who shouted to the crowd outside, “Why don’t you guys do something?” as she was being shoved into the back of a patrol car. 

There were not enough police inside to prevent the uprising that followed.

Outside, word of the riot quickly spread, and police couldn’t control the growing crowds, which threw debris and spare change as they grouped together. About 600 people, mostly young people, homeless, displaced youth who had fled unaccepting households, were chasing police up and down the streets of Greenwich Village on that Friday night. Police withdrew into the Stonewall, which patrons set on fire. By Saturday morning, the place that had been a haven for the gay community was a smoldering shell, and things grew quiet.

The next night, many people who lived downtown gathered again, not just members of the LGBTQ community but everyone who called the section of New York City their home, and what followed were peaceful protests, much different than the chaotic night before.

Protestors held hands, chanted “gay power” and “we want freedom now,” both borrowed from the civil rights movement, and after a few nights, the protests died down. The power behind them, however, had not.

Like the lunch counter sit-ins spread across the nation, so did the movement sparked by the Stonewall riots.

Stonewall’s legacy

A few weeks later, members of the Mattachine Foundation held a march from Washington Square Park to Stonewall, and although it was less than half a mile, hundreds showed up to participate in the peaceful event.

A year later, New York’s unofficial first gay pride march, called the Christopher Street Liberation Day and marked by a reclaiming of the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in concentration camps during World War II, was led by the Gay Activists Alliance and Mattachine.

Craig Rodwell and some friends took advantage of the momentum and held a similar event in Philadelphia to commemorate Stonewall.

“It was only after the march that these gay pioneers realized what might be possible,” said Fred Sargent in an interview with CNN.

More cities began holding similar events, and while many groups formed and fractured in the wake of Stonewall, fireworks had been lit, and although it continues to be rocky, change had begun. 

“The freedom to look how I look and to act how I act are forms of progress hard-won by queer people who fought, at Stonewall and elsewhere, for years. The stones thrown, the bones broken and the lives lost are with me now as I pursue my practice,” artist Rindon Johnson told the New York Times.

Certainly, the fight isn’t over. Not when the mayor of a town in Alabama, perhaps inspired by the freedom to spew bigotry allowed by the tweets from President Trump, suggests the “killing out” of gay and transgender people to prevent them from influencing his grandchildren, in an environment where targeted violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ is on the rise, as reported by the FBI.

But despite these moments of bigotry, Stonewall has left its mark in a monumental way, inspiring members of the LGBTQ community to continue the battle for civil rights for all.

Introducing In Kind Live!

In Kind Live is a livestreamed telethon and event series where we partner with nonprofits, and organizations, who are doing work that we’d like to support, in order to fundraise and raise awareness for their causes. In Kind Live will start as a monthly event, with the goal to grow it into a regularly scheduled event.

The Inaugural In Kind Live took place on June 18, 2019 with a musical performance from Jared Jones and hosted by Daniella Mazzio, with the Environmental Defense Fund being the first nonprofit we featured.

Radiohead Releases Leaked OK Computer Sessions to Support Extinction Rebellion

Radiohead has released 18 hours of demo recording, studio sessions, and unreleased songs after a hacker demanded $150,000 as ransom to not leak the stolen recordings. In response, the band released the compilation of the recordings on Bandcamp for £18 (or around $25) as a fundraiser for the global climate activist group, Extinction Rebellion, who have taken up residency in London.

Radiohead.Climate.Change.Extinction.Rebellion.Idioteqe.Iceage.Coming.Environment.jpg

Quoting from band member Jonny Greenwood:

“We got hacked last week - someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it. So instead of complaining - much - or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.

Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it though?”

“The climate and ecological emergency demands courage, truth-telling and generosity like never before,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement, “We are so grateful to Radiohead for showing us how that’s done, both now and in the lead-up to the April rebellion. Words are inadequate but actions do change the world.”

To download the recordings, visit Radiohead’s Bandcamp page.

To learn more about or to support Extinction Rebellion, visit their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Explaining Public Charge, and Its Impact on Immigrants Living in the US

Public charge is a law that determines ineligibility for lawful permanent residency and inadmissibility to the United States, based on an individual’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. Generally, this rule ensures that a person is able to provide for themselves currently and in the future, and will not become a ward – or charge – of the government. Current public charge rules for immigrants seeking to adjust status only apply to those who extensively participate in programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or state cash assistance programs. Immigration officials also determine whether someone is a public charge based on a host of other factors, based on their current and future ability to provide for themselves.   

In October 2018, the Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Lee Cissna, proposed new changes to the current public charge ruling and requirements. At present, the proposed changes to the public charge ruling redefines the programs used to determine if someone is a public charge. This means, that if anyone were to rely on additional public benefits programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, and Medicare Part D, they are subject to ineligibility due to their status as a public charge. The proposed changes also subject immigrants and their family members to a “public charge test” which determines how well an immigrant applicant can speak, read, and write in English.

However, the proposed rule is not current law in the United States. Before the government can finalize the proposed changes, they must review the more than 266,000 comments submitted on the ruling, as well as a congressional review. While the proposed rules have not been written into law, the announcement of the ruling has already created significant changes in how immigrants access and use their benefits. 

(Photo:  LA Opinion )

(Photo: LA Opinion)

Immigrant advocacy groups have seen how this ruling affects their clients and communities; the Urban Institute reported 13.7% immigrant adults did not participate in their noncash benefits programs, because they are afraid they will be deported or denied their green cards. This means that these individuals did not apply for benefits, or they elected to drop out of their Medicaid, SNAP, or Medicare Part D programs. By not participating in these programs, immigrants are denying themselves preventative healthcare and access to healthy and nutritional foods. 

The proposed changes in public charge do not only affect immigrant adults. Immigrant families, elderly immigrants, and immigrants with U.S. citizen children are also impacted by these proposed changes. In fact, researchers have seen a 20% decline in WIC enrollments; this program is designed to help low-income mothers provide food for their babies and infants. By dropping out of this program, immigrant families cannot provide nutritious and healthy foods for their infants and children, who are often U.S. Citizens. These children and infants will be more likely to experience malnutrition, which will have long-term effects on their physical and mental growth. However, the immigrant parents do not want to risk their family’s ability to stay in the country due to fears of deportation.  

The government asserts that these changes in the rule will encourage immigrants and their families to become self-sufficient; through hard work, they will not need to rely on public benefits. However, this rule perpetuates systemic discriminatory practices on low-income immigrant families. By passing this rule into law, the government ensures that immigrant communities, especially those from countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, will forgo the aid that they need in order to receive their green-cards. 

In doing this, immigrant families will struggle socioeconomically, relying only on minimum wage income to pay for doctors’ visits, food, and their housing, along with other utilities and costs associated with daily living. If the rule passes, immigrant families will be stuck in a cycle of poverty, since they will have to work multiple jobs to support their families, since they do not have access to benefits. Public benefit programs are specifically designed to help working families without forcing them to decide if between rent, medicine or food, regardless of immigration status. However, with the proposed changes, immigrants must now decide between their immigration status or a healthy life. 

Immigrant families should not be vilified for dropping out of public benefit programs. Their actions are perpetuated by confusion – while many non-profits and community based organizations continuously provide education to immigrants – other factors contribute to the confusion. Misinformation in the community, the news, and distress from the current political climate propels immigrants into dropping out of their public benefits programs. However, since this rule has not been passed into law, immigrants can and should continue their benefits. Only if the ruling goes into effect, they will have up to a year to participate in programs such as Medicaid and SNAP before they are deemed a public charge. Regardless, the proposed changes to public charge are drastic, damaging, and harmful, and if they are passed, the ramifications will be worse. We have an obligation to provide basic human services to legal immigrants. 

In the 1880s, Emma Lazarus, a New York poet and refugee activist, wrote: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This was later inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which has greeted millions of immigrants and refugees over the decades. Immigrants come to this country seeking a better life; the government should not prevent the nation’s most vulnerable immigrants by forcing them to choose between immigrant status or their health and wellbeing. 

Colorado Just Capped the Price of Insulin at $100/mo

Colorado has become the first state in the United States to pass legislation to limit the out of pocket price of insulin sold in their state. Starting in January 2020, the law states that those paying co-payments for the lifesaving drug under private insurance plans will only have to pay up to $100 for a 30-day supply. This is a substantial cut from the 2016 national average of a person with type 1 diabetes paying annual insulin costs of $5,705, or $475.41 a month— which is double the national average from 2012.

Colorado.Insulin.Price.Cap.Legislation.Healthcare.Health.Wellness.jpg

While signing the bill into law Governor Jared Polis said, “today we will finally declare that the days of insulin price-gouging are over in Colorado,” as reported by the local Denver CBS affiliate. He later described how some residents were paying as much as $600-$900 a month for their prescriptions to be refilled.

The reduction in costs will be welcome to those who get their insulin through private insurance. According to the Colorado Health Institute, “the state’s insurance rate is 93.5 percent, essentially unchanged from the all-time high of 93.3 percent set in 2015.“ This means that the legislation going into effect next year will cover the vast majority of Colorado citizens, which will hopefully begin to set a precedent for other states to follow.

Since the legislation only affects the out of pocket price of insulin, covered by private insurance, unfortunately those who are uninsured will not be covered by the new law, exemplifying a need for a more equal healthcare system where medically necessary drugs like insulin don’t get caught up in politics or drug company price gouging.

While this legislation doesn’t fully address the main issue at large, which is everyone should have access to healthcare and not get priced out from medicine that they need, it does go a long way in the state of Colorado by guaranteeing that the majority of those in Colorado will be affected by the law, and will hopefully spread to other states.

The Midwest Added 28,000 Renewable Energy Jobs in 2018

The renewable energy sector continues to add jobs in the Midwestern states of the United States. In 2018, 28,000 jobs were created, a 4% increase from the prior year, as reported by a recent report released by national advocacy group Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Smoky Hills Wind Project — Lincoln, Kansas (250MW)

Smoky Hills Wind Project — Lincoln, Kansas (250MW)

The report states that the Midwest's renewable energy sector employed more than 737,000 workers in 2018. The report breaks these jobs down into clean energy sectors: energy efficiency, renewable energy generation (including solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy and low-impact hydroelectric power), advanced transportation, advanced grid and clean fuels. It goes on further to state that the Midwest’s clean energy sector is projected to expand by an additional 7% in 2019, almost double the United States’ 3.6% clean energy growth rate in 2018.

Clean Energy Jobs in the Midwest (2018)

In 2018, Michigan had the most renewable energy jobs in their state with 126,081 jobs and a 4% growth rate. Illinois came in second at 123,247 jobs and a matched 4% growth rate. The midwestern state with the third most renewable energy jobs was Ohio, with 112,500 jobs jobs and a 4.6% growth rate.

Michigan’s current law calls for utilities to increase renewable energy production to 15% by 2021, over their current 10%. Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, signed in 2016, will require 25% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2025. In Ohio, cities like Cleveland have started to pledge to convert to 100% renewable energy.

Post Rock Wind Power Project — Ellsworth, Kansas (200MW)

Post Rock Wind Power Project — Ellsworth, Kansas (200MW)

According to a report released by the American Wind Energy Association, wind power represents more than 80 percent of the new electricity generating capacity built in the Midwest and Great Plains states. As reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association: In Michigan, there is 152.25MW of solar energy capacity installed, or enough to power 25,196 homes. In Illinois there are 108.47MW of solar energy installed or enough to power 16,727 homes. In Ohio, there is 201.82MW installed, or enough to power 24,679 homes.

The renewable energy sector, in the Midwest, United States, and globally, continues to grow year over year as the price for renewable energy sources continues to fall. This increase in affordability, accessibility, and investment comes in time for the calls for the global energy system at large to convert to renewable energy sources. These growth rates could be considered to be too slow to shift our energy system in time to advert a climate crisis, but they can also be seen as the beginnings of exponential progress in a market that is slow to shift. Either way, this is good news, and the Midwest should double down on these efforts.

Get Involved: Nationwide 'Stop the Abortion Bans' Days of Action

We’re only five months into 2019, but in these short five months, eight different states have passed bills to limit abortion procedures: Utah, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama. Alabama has implemented the most extreme of these abortion bans, making abortions illegal except in situations where an abortion would be necessary to save a mother’s life. There are no exceptions for survivors of rape and incest. Doctors who perform abortion procedures in Alabama could face up to 99 years in prison

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

The Alabama abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional — it flouts the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the United States, Roe v. Wade. Although it may not make sense for a state to pass a law that is so blatantly unconstitutional, the Alabama abortion ban is actually designed to go all the way to the Supreme Court, with the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade altogether. 

It is completely unconscionable for the government to dictate what a person can do with their body. No one should be forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy. Safe abortions should be readily available, no questions asked. Low-income women, women of color, and nonbinary or trans people are most vulnerable to effects of the Alabama abortion ban — their opportunities to travel outside of Alabama to get a safe abortion are extremely limited. The Alabama abortion ban is a blatant attempt to nullify reproductive rights in the United States, stripping women of any modicum of control over their own bodies.

If you’re interested in fighting back against these abortion restrictions, you can visit stopabortionbans.org, which hosts a wide variety of pro-choice protests that will be occurring all over the country over the next couple of days. These protests are sponsored by a wide variety of organizations, including Beyond the Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, Moveon, and the Women’s Rights Coalition. You can enter your zip code into the search bar to find the closest protests to you. Publicly voicing your opposition to these obvious attempts to strip women of their rights can be a powerful way to convince lawmakers that their actions endanger women, and could even threaten their chances at reelection. 

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

You can also donate to small reproductive rights organizations that are doing crucial work to make safe abortions accessible in states that have passed or are passing restrictive abortion bans. The Yellowhammer Fund, the National Network of Abortion Funds, the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, and the Gateway Women’s Access Fund are all incredible resources for low-income patients, LGBT patients, and people of color who are directly impacted by these abortion restrictions. Finally, you can volunteer to become an abortion clinic escort. Especially in abortion-restrictive states, many abortion clinics are regularly picketed by anti-abortion protesters, who verbally and even physically harass people on their way to receive an abortion procedure. Abortion clinic escorts help accompany women from their cars to the clinic, protecting them from the harassment of anti-abortion picketers and making them feel safer. 

The Alabama abortion ban and other abortion restrictions like it can feel incredibly discouraging and disheartening. Let your anger and sadness galvanize you into action — there are so many ways that you can fight these restrictions on a local, state, and national level. If reproductive rights matter to you, take a stand!

Learn more at stopabortionbans.org

Follow MoveOn, Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List on Instagram

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Hello, Have You Registered to Vote Yet?

Registering to vote is one of the most crucial responsibilities that we have as US citizens. 2019 is an off-year, but if you live in Kentucky, Mississippi, or Louisiana, 2019 is a gubernatorial election year, so it’s still important to prepare yourself to vote come November 5. And of course, the next US presidential election will be happening on November 3, 2020. If you’re not registered to vote already, it’s good to get the registration process out of the way now! 

Vote.Election.2020.Candidates.Presidential.Register.

Voter registration can be a kind of complicated and confusing process, but there are some great online resources available to make registering to vote as simple and painless as possible! Vote.gov is an incredibly helpful website that can help you make sense of your state’s voter registration policies. All you need to do is enter in the US state or territory that you live in, and vote.gov will provide easy-to-follow instructions to help you register to vote! Currently, 38 states (plus Washington DC) allow online voter registration. If you live in one of these states, vote.gov will direct you to your state or territory’s online voter application site, where you can quickly and easily register to vote from the comfort of your own home!

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If you live in American Samoa, Guam, New Hampshire, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, or Wyoming, you’ll need to register in person at your local election office. Vote.gov provides links to the elections sites for each of these states or territories that will instruct you on how and where to register in person. If you live in Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, or Texas, you can register to vote by mail. Vote.gov provides a downloadable and printable PDF of each of these states’ voter registration forms, which you can fill out and mail in to your state! Finally, if you live in North Dakota, you don’t need to register to vote at all! On Election Day, all you need to do is show up to your local polling place with a valid state ID, and you’re good to go!

Additionally, different states and territories have different registration deadlines. If you register to vote after these deadlines, you won’t be eligible to vote that year, and will have to wait until the next election year. The US Vote Foundation allows you to look up your state or territory’s registration deadlines, so you know how much time you have to submit your registration forms. If you live in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, or Washington DC, you can register to vote as late as Election Day itself. 

Although voter registration might seem like a hassle, it’s incredibly important to get it done as soon as possible to ensure that everything goes smoothly on Election Day. Voting is a civic responsibility for all US citizens, and you shouldn’t let the complicated bureaucracies of voter registration stop you from exercising your right to vote! 

Universal Health Coverage Should Be a Fundamental Human Right

Although the United States is currently classified by the Human Development Index (HDI) as the 13th most developed nation on Earth, it still lacks one of the most fundamental human rights: a system for assuring that all of its residents are able to afford and receive healthcare. In fact, out of the HDI’s top 15 most developed nations, the United States is the only one that does not currently implement some sort of functioning universal healthcare system. The debate surrounding universal healthcare in the US is definitely nuanced, but ultimately, the argument for universal healthcare boils down to the notion that health is a basic human right. 

This is by no means a new concept — the constitution of the World Health Organization, which was written in 1948, declared universal health coverage to be a fundamental human right. There are three crucial objectives to universal health coverage: first, that everyone receives health services, not just those who can pay for them; second, that these health services effectively improve the wellbeing of those who receive them; third, that receiving these health services does not negatively impact the financial situations of patients. In short, universal health coverage seeks to ensure that no one forgoes receiving necessary healthcare because they can’t afford it. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. 

Although universal health coverage, sometimes referred to as ‘Medicaid for All,’ might seem like a lofty goal, it is possible. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 18 countries have fully achieved universal health coverage, which means that 100% of their population is covered by adequate health insurance. Many other nations, including Austria, Japan, and Spain, have achieved near-universal health coverage, which means that over 98% of their population is covered by adequate health insurance. In comparison to these nations, the US is actually lagging behind — as of late 2017, less than 88% of Americans reported being covered by adequate health insurance. Although the United States prides itself on being one of the most developed and prosperous countries in the world, it cannot claim to be a frontrunner when it comes to ensuring the health of its populace. 

Most Americans with health insurance are covered by employer-sponsored private coverage. Other Americans receive health insurance by qualifying for Medicare or Medicaid. Finally, a small percentage of Americans receive health insurance through the US military or Veterans Administration. However, this still leaves almost 30 million Americans who are not covered by any kind of health insurance. 

For people who are just starting to research the arguments behind universal healthcare in the United States, trying to make sense of the different kinds of health insurance systems can be incredibly confusing. There are three major ways that countries can achieve the goal of universal health coverage: a single-payer system, a two-tier system, and an insurance mandate. Of the 32 nations that offer universal health coverage, 16 utilize a single-payer system, 9 utilize a two-tier system, and 7 utilize an insurance mandate. 

In single-payer systems, the federal government is singlehandedly responsible for providing health insurance, which is funded by taxes. However, the actual healthcare services can either be government-run or contracted from private organizations. Nations with single-payer systems include the UK, Canada, and Norway. The US actually does have a modified single-payer healthcare system, Medicare, but not all US residents qualify for it. Most people who qualify for Medicare are retirees over the age of 65. However, you can also qualify for Medicare if you receive Social Security Disability Insurance or have been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. If you don’t fall under any of these categories, then you cannot benefit from a single-payer health insurance system in the US. 

In two-tier systems, a basic government health insurance plan is mandatory for all residents. This plan is funded using taxes and covers basic services, including hospital services and general practitioners. However, additional services that are not covered by the basic government health insurance plan are offered privately, and can be paid for out-of-pocket, or by purchasing a supplementary private insurance plan. That being said, the nuances of individual two-tier systems vary from country to country. Nations with two-tier health insurance systems include France, Australia, and Singapore.

Finally, insurance mandates require that all the residents of a country are covered by some form of health insurance, with the bare minimum policies covering hospitalizations and outpatient medical treatment. Nations with insurance mandates include Germany, South Korea, and Switzerland. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, is a form of insurance mandate, with the goal of ensuring that all American residents are covered by some kind of health insurance. 

Many people are confused about what the ACA is actually supposed to do. One of the biggest ACA reforms is the establishment of public health insurance exchanges, which are like marketplaces that allow individuals and families to seek out and buy affordable and comprehensive health insurance plans. The ACA also provides increased government subsidies to help low and middle-income families afford health insurance. Additionally, it prohibits insurance companies from refusing service or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions, making health insurance more affordable and accessible to all. The ACA also prohibits insurance companies from placing an annual or lifetime cap on how much money they’re willing to pay for an individual’s healthcare. Finally, the ACA requires all companies with at least 50 employees to offer affordable, comprehensive health insurance to all of their full-time employees. 

Although the ACA has made considerable strides towards the goal of achieving universal health coverage for all Americans, it’s not a perfect system, and has faced considerable pushback, especially from Republican politicians. One of the ACA’s major flaws involves Medicaid, a program established in the 1980s to provide affordable healthcare for low-income Americans. When the ACA was first established, one of its main goals was to expand Medicaid to all 50 states in the hopes that more low-income individuals could gain access to affordable health insurance. However, in 2012, the Supreme Court declared the expansion of Medicaid unconstitutional, which means that individual states are still allowed to opt out of providing expanded Medicaid coverage to their residents. As of 2019, 37 states (including Washington DC) have adopted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, but 14 states have chosen not to. This has created a coverage gap for low-income individuals in these 14 states, which means that about 2 million Americans still do not have affordable or accessible health coverage. Until all Americans, including those who live at or under the poverty line, are given access to affordable healthcare, we cannot claim to be a nation that values the fundamental human right of health. 

In March of 2019, the Trump Administration announced that it wanted to overthrow the entire Affordable Care Act, nullifying advances in healthcare coverage for over 30 million Americans. To do this, the Trump Administration is banking on a lawsuit against the ACA, Texas v. Azar, which seeks to declare the entirety of the ACA unconstitutional. Legal scholars are divided on whether or not this lawsuit poses a serious threat to the ACA, so in the coming months, the Texas v. Azar suit is definitely something to keep your eye on if you’re interested in following the debate surrounding the ACA. To combat the Trump Administration, House Democrats recently introduced a bill to strengthen the Affordable Care Act. Provisions in this bill include increasing subsidies for low-income individuals, expanding federal assistance to include individuals at higher income levels, and fixing the ACA’s notorious “family glitch,” which currently makes it difficult for employed individuals to afford insurance plans that include their spouses and children. However, because of rampant partisanship in Congress, it’s still unclear whether this bill will make any ground. 

Universal healthcare and ‘Medicaid for All’ has become the battleground of a fierce partisan debate, with Republicans and Democrats vying for political power by trying to repeal or strengthen the ACA. Although the debate swirling around universal health coverage and the ACA can be incredibly tense and confusing, it’s important to always keep in mind the core tenet of human rights that serves as the foundation of the argument for universal healthcare. Regardless of what form it ends up taking, access to quality healthcare is a fundamental human right, and every attempt to deny this healthcare is a degradation of the United States’ commitment to upholding human rights. 

Uber and Lyft Drivers Set to Strike Before Uber IPO

Uber and Lyft drivers in several major cities across the globe are planning a 2-hour strike set for May 7, 2019- the day before Uber shares begin to trade publicly. Labor groups who are organizing the strike are protesting the companies’ payment and labor practices, and hope that their early morning-rush hour strike will cause enough congestion to not only make Uber and Lyft executives take notice, but also the financial press covering the much awaited Uber IPO.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, rideshare drivers in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles are scheduled to go on strike from 7AM to 9AM on Wednesday, May 8th. According to the Independant, the participating cities in the UK include London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has released three demands to coincide with the strike:

  1. In solidarity with our driver brothers and sisters fighting to stop poverty and debt and in support of their national demands!

  2. To win Job Security for App Drivers by ending Unfair Deactivations in NYC!

  3. To secure a Livable Income by ending the scam of Upfront Pricing where passengers pay more but drivers earn less. Regulate the fare Uber/Lyft/Juno/Via charge passengers, and cap the Companies' commission, guaranteeing 80-85% of the fare to the driver!

Uber is projected to go public at the largest, or one of the largest valuations for an IPO. According to the New York Times, “Uber expects to be worth as much as $91 billion when it starts selling shares next month, making its initial public offering one of the largest in the history of the technology industry.”

While the rideshare company has become a political behemoth, noted for its bull-headed early strategy of entering markets before laws were created to accommodate it and treating cities like its own private laboratory, this moment before Uber’s IPO is also one of its most vulnerable. According to Business Insider, “Dara Khosrowshahi could get a huge payday — totaling more than $100 million according to a source — if Uber's IPO valuation hits $120 billion and stays at that level for 90 consecutive days.” This means that Uber’s CEO has $100 million on the line to make Uber’s transition to public company as smooth and valuable as possible.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

If drivers are able to generate enough strain on the rideshare systems to cause a public outrage, or even just a media one, then the drivers who are often considered to be exploited by rideshare companies can leverage this window of opportunity to either guarantee that Uber’s CEO doesn’t get his $100 million bonus, or demand more livable wages and treatment.

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders has even responded to the strike in a statement on Twitter, “Uber says it can't pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by. I stand with the Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike on May 8.”

Although not specifically tied into the driver IPO strike, the environmental nonprofit and activist group, Sierra Club, has also entered into the fray with a new campaign, that takes advantage of the IPO media, to urge Uber and Lyft to electrify their fleet. In a statement to the Verge, Andrew Linhardt, deputy advocacy director at the Sierra Club said that, “they need to put real funding behind these incentive programs, especially for full-time drivers, and get them more quickly into electric vehicles. They have the market power to help shape the EV market.”

Whether it’s workers rights, fair pay, or vehicle electrification— Uber, and its executive team, have a lot to consider before their upcoming IPO. Uber is set to become one of the largest, if not the largest, IPO in market history at around a valuation of $91 billion. While there has been much mythologizing about Uber’s executive culture of relentlessness, in actuality it’s their drivers whose backs they built their fortunes on. Rideshare companies like to tout their environmental nature and efficiency, but in actuality their fleet still burns gas. With the May 8th strike, hopefully those who will benefit least from the company’s windfall will begin to have their say.

Youth Climate Strike Are Only Gaining Momentum

Few movements have captured the public’s attention like the Youth Climate Strike. In August of 2018, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, ignited the movement by refusing to attend school and instead sitting on the front steps of the Swedish Parliament. Within months she was an internationally known advocate for climate action. Worldwide, teenagers and children responded in kind by striking for climate action. Their first major action, a worldwide strike on March 15 of 2019, was a resounding success that told the world in no uncertain terms that the next generation would stand up for the environment.

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

The History of the Youth Climate Strike

This isn’t the first time that students have struck for the climate. In 2015, over 50,000 people participated in a worldwide strike in favor of clean energy, aid for climate refugees, and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Many of the participants were children who skipped school to be involved. The strike happened in concert with COP21, but did not give rise to a lasting movement. That’s a contrast to the current Youth Climate Strike, which has already developed a great deal of momentum with both its small- and large-scale international actions. 

In Kind had the opportunity to sit down with two leaders of the US-based arm of the Youth Climate Strike— Maddy Fernands, the group’s National Press Director, and Karla Stephan, the movement’s new National Finance Director. 

Striking From School

The idea behind the Youth Climate Strike is simple: student activists skip class on Fridays to stand in front of their local, state, or national government offices. To paraphrase some of the participants in this movement, there is little more about the climate situation that needs to be learned in a classroom. These students feel that they already know the most important factor: adults aren’t doing enough to stop climate change. 

There is an immediacy to this movement that doesn’t necessarily exist in older organizations. If a child born in 2003 lives to be 100 years old, they are almost guaranteed to see some of the worst effects of climate change. The students who are now striking on Fridays are doing so because they can be assured that climate change will affect their lives. Climate change is not an abstraction or distant prophecy for them, but a near-term upset of their adult lives. To a degree, the schoolwork that prepares them for a business-as-usual future may be moot. It is hard to project how climate change will affect civilization. The teens who strike feel that protesting the inaction of adults is a better use of their time than sitting quietly and hoping that everything will be alright. They’ve decided to take matters into their own hands.

A New Organization

The Youth Climate Strike grew out of Fridays For Future, the organization that itself rose out of Greta Thunberg’s Friday strikes before the Swedish Parliament. Thunberg only began striking in August of 2018, meaning that the movement has momentum unusual for a new group. Some of this might be laid at Thunberg’s feet. As an international spokeswoman, the 16-year-old has done an excellent job promoting her cause. Not only has she delivered a TED talk, but she has spoken before the UN and is scheduled to also speak at Davos. She has even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She - and the Youth Climate Strike - are now household names.

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Organization

The movement itself is global, with strikes happening in places as far-flung as Switzerland, Columbia, and Uganda. In the US, leadership is organized at the state and national levels. This hierarchy allows the group to both coordinate widespread actions and stay in contact as they plan increasingly ambitious actions. 

As if the challenge of organizing a national movement isn’t enough, the Youth Climate Strike is also youth-led and youth-managed. Maddy Fernands says that parents and educators are supportive, but have minimal administrative involvement. The leadership and direction are all managed by high schoolers. This seems apt, considering that these are the same people who will need to deal with the brunt of the climate crisis when they become adults. Many members of the group express frustration with current adult attitudes toward climate change, and even parents connected with the movement admit that they don’t feel the same panic about climate change that their kids do. In many ways, this might be a boon for the movement. Parents and educators don’t need to be involved in the protest itself. They can take care of practicalities, like bills and transportation, while their kids lay the groundwork for a movement to save the future.

Leadership

The US movement is led by five students: Representative Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi, is National Co-director and Co-founder with twelve-year-old Haven Coleman. National Creative Director Feliquan Charlemagne also heads the Florida state Youth Climate Strike chapter. Maddy Fernands, the group’s National Press Director, and Karla Stephan, its National Finance Director. Salomée Levy functions as the State Liaison, coordinating the national Youth Climate Strike leadership with state-based actions and chapters. 

Partnerships

To say that the Youth Climate Strike has made a splash in the world of environmental activism is to make a profound understatement. Karla Stephan reports that the group benefits from a growing list of partnerships, including those with Greenpeace, 350.org, the Future Coalition, and the Sunrise Movement. “It’s really helpful,” she says. What the Youth Climate Strike lacks in years, it makes up for with media savviness, networking, and connected leadership.

Co-director Isra Hirsi and Press Director Maddy Fernands are involved in several other environmental activist organizations, including MN Can’t Wait, a youth coalition that connects groups from 350.org to Sunrise and makes it possible for teens to get involved in climate action. Salomée Levy, the State Liaison, has also worked with GirlUp, a UN initiative to empower women and girls.

Sunrise Movement striking in solidarity with Youth Climate Strike in Chicago, Illinois

Sunrise Movement striking in solidarity with Youth Climate Strike in Chicago, Illinois

Not only are these partnerships important to the current Youth Climate Strike organization, but they represent a bright future for climate politics. Many of them, including 350.org, are relatively young themselves. However, they share the Youth Climate Strike’s political strategy and are already making an impression on US climate leadership. It seems likely that some Youth Climate Strike members will eventually run for office. At that time, the structure, strategies, and priorities of the wider environmentalist movement, including its focus on intersectionality, could become a larger priority in mainstream politics. That moment won’t be long in coming, either. Even though the members of the Youth Climate Strike can’t vote now, some are only a few years away from being legally allowed to run for local office. 

Goals

The demands and mission of the US Youth Climate Strike group are clear and broad in scope, but focused on working within the current political structure. One of their most strident goals is that climate change needs to be a national emergency. This would make funding available for the infrastructure upgrades that need to happen in order to move the nation beyond a fossil fuel-dependent economy. 

However, the group particularly wants to focus on supporting the Green New Deal. This comprehensive plan for climate action has been championed by some national policy makers, but still faces resistance. Nevertheless, it is gaining in popularity across the nation. The Youth Climate Strike’s priority is for the US to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. 

Intersectionality

Particular to the US-based Youth Climate Strike is a concern for marginalized communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by climate change. Several of the members of the group’s leadership express this priority in their online bios and display consciousness of intersectionality in their leadership. With a large percentage of female and non-white leadership, the group displays diversity in its representation as well as its actions. Maddy stresses that Indigenous communities have been on the front lines of the environmental movement from its beginning. In order for the transition to renewable energy to be just, those communities must continue to have a seat at the table.

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via Flickr

Actions

The March 15th Strike

The Youth Climate Strike is young in every sense of the word: young people lead it, but the movement itself is also less than a year old. However, it’s growing. The worldwide strike on March 15 was a key indicator of just how popular it has become across the globe. The New York Times reports that particularly massive protests took place outside of the US, with Hyderabad, South Africa, and Seoul all seeing sgnificant youth participation. Worldwide, more than a million young people participated. 30,000 marched in Sydney alone.

In Washington DC, the strike nearly coincided with a walk-out for gun control, lowering turnout, and Karla concedes that the DC group is hoping for better result at their next action. However, she tells In Kind that participation across the rest of the US was more than satisfactory. Some places, like New York, held strikes in multiple locations, which made the event more accessible to a broader range of students. New York and Los Angeles saw the highest participation rates, but even Alabama saw teenagers walking out of class for the climate. It was a good start, Karla says, especially when it came to media coverage. 

While Maddy Fernands, the National Media Cordinator, made sure that people got interviews with the Youth Climate Strike’s leaders, local operatives managed social media on a place-by-place basis. “I had access to the DC Instagram and Facebook,” Karla tells me. “There was also US-wide social media.” The social media strategy was particularly important to the movement’s growth and influence. While the Youth Climate Strike leaders don’t disregard the importance of traditional media, including NPR and the New York Times, they’re also well aware that more people check social media than read the news. Both had their places on the big day, but one was disproportionately successful. “Social media definitely helped our platform more,” Karla says.

In fact, social media may have spurred a jump in the Youth Climate Strike’s membership. Participation has grown tremendously since the strike, with a surge in applications to join the national and state teams. Requests for ground-level membership pour in day by day from kids who are inspired by the fact that people are paying attention to the demands of teenagers. As non-voters, teens don’t always have much control over what happens to their world. This is a way to do something about the future of the planet that they’ll inherit. The movement is well situated for its next action on May 3. 

Youth Climate Strike in London via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in London via Flickr

What’s Next

The Youth Climate Strike is banking on their winning media strategy coming through again on May 3, when the movement will once again walk out of school. This time, however, their plan is more focused on policymakers. Now that the Youth Climate Strike has the world’s attention, they’ll use their newfound influence to lobby local and state officials to support environmental legislation. Karla says the intention is to switch up the way that strikes are normally done, a way to get real action out of an otherwise symbolic protest. “It’s combining civil disobedience with civil action.”

Strategic plans for this collective political action are still in progress, but in DC, at least, the process will begin with a moment of silence. Since Congress isn’t in session at that time, most of the lobbying work will happen at the state level. However, the impact of teens rallying at the Capitol will be important for the message that the group wants to send. Teens prioritize climate change even when adults are off doing other things. 

In keeping with their organizational demands, the Youth Climate Strike will attempt to persuade politicians to support the Green New Deal. Though that’s their focus, the movement is open to any environmental policy that could slow or halt global climate change. Their goal is to inspire action on the parts of political leaders, and at this point, any action would be welcome. 

In that spirit, the Youth Climate Strike also launched a petition in partnership with MoveOn.org to get the 2020 US Presidential candidates to hold an environmentally themed debate. In an election where the environment is an increasingly popular theme, this gives the Youth Climate Strike a chance to move public dialogue closer to the urgent climate issues that they feel should be the center of political discussion already. 

Greta Thunberg aptly noted that there’s no second chance for climate action. For the teens of the Youth Climate Strike, the time is now. This is their chance to save the world, and they’re taking it.

Donate to or learn more about the Youth Climate Strike on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Sign Youth Climate Strike’s #ClimateDebate petition to make climate change a central topic in the 2020 presidential election

Sophie Peterson: An Artist’s Journey Toward Radical Acceptance

Sophie Peterson, a 24-year-old from Long Grove, Illinois, can pinpoint the exact moment she knew she wanted to become an artist. It was after she won a drawing contest in third grade. After that, she would frequently attend the Art Institute of Chicago with her parents and try to recreate the paintings in her notebook. At eight years old she was no Picasso (she says the drawings were “terrible”) but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the art. 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, Sophie faces her feelings of anxiety and depression

Over the years, Sophie admits she temporarily left behind her artwork for fear it would lead to an unprofitable career. She majored in international studies at Colorado State University but it wasn’t until she briefly left college that she rediscovered her love for art and used it to help cope with PTSD, anxiety and her decade-long battle with bulimia nervosa. 

“For the entirety of my recovery journey, art has been the one thing to keep me stable and has led me to have these revelations to see where I am in my mental health and where I am in my recovery,” she says. 

Sophie hopes that her work will encourage others to talk about their mental health

“I remember when I was in art therapy, sitting with a ball of clay trying to mold it and I burst into tears because I couldn’t get it. That was the moment I recognized that I had problems that needed to be resolved.” 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, she faces these issues head on and encourages others to do the same. The inspiration came at the end of her college career, a time when she was unsure of the path ahead and anxious about her future. So, she took her stress, fear and anxiety and channeled it into a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession through repetitive details and mark making. 

“My goal is to talk about my own experiences and let people in on the fact I was really not okay for a period of time and I figured out a way to work through that without using fun, self-care tactics,” she says. “I want people to know they aren’t the only ones going through this.” 

Sophie has always tried to be as authentic as possible with her work, which speaks to the experiences she has gone through with her mental health journey and what it’s like to feel “in your own head” all the time. 

Radical Acceptance is a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession

As someone who suffered from an eating disorder for an extended period in her life, Sophie says she that her work also focuses on depression and the inability to see yourself the way other people see you. 

“My experiences are really definitive of what my art stands for,” she says. “I want people to look at the work and put their own thoughts onto it. But once they hear the story behind it, they seem to open up and talk about their own experiences, which has been extremely gratifying.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness a year. Despite the common nature of mental illnesses occurrence, sharing individuals’ experiences with it remain a stigmatized topic.

Sophie and her boyfriend

Sophie and her boyfriend

With her art, Sophie is able to give people, who may not have the words to describe how they’re feeling, the tools for them to express themselves or identify why they may be feeling a certain way, which was the first step on Sophie’s road to recovery.

It’s been a long journey, but one Sophie says she wouldn’t change. “In general, there are time when I look back and think, ‘I wish I would have done this differently,’ but when I reframe thinking in terms of where I was at mentally and the trajectory that I’ve been on, I don’t think I have any regrets – life is what it is.” 

She laughs knowing how cliché it sounds, but also realizing how true it is, especially for her and so many others around the world. 

“The best part is when the audience kind of falls into a piece and puts their own interpretation on the artwork,” she says. “It might lead them to think about certain memories or experiences, which can help start a conversation about how they’re feeling. I don’t care if people love my work or not, but if people are talking about their mental health, then that means I’ve done something for them.”

To find out more about Sophie Peterson, follow her on Instagram.

The Algorithmic Accountability Act Is Designed to Remove Bias From Big Data

How does your Netflix account always seem to know just what cheesy rom-com or gory slasher flick you’re in the mood for? How is an iPhone X able to recognize your face as easily as a person does? How can Google Maps calculate routes that circumvent traffic jams and get you where you need to be in as little time as possible? These, and many other technological innovations, are possible due to algorithms. 

In the world of computer science, algorithms can be defined as lists of instructions that tell computers what to do. In this increasingly digital age, algorithms are a part of almost everything we do. Amazon uses algorithms to suggest items that you might want to browse. Online dating sites like eHarmony and OkCupid use algorithms to match up potential couples. Financial analysts and traders train algorithms to predict and react to fluctuations in the stock market at speeds that no human being could ever accomplish. Modern society has grown reliant on algorithms for a lot of the tasks we take for granted, and this reliance shows no signs of stopping. Although these increasingly complex algorithms present new and exciting opportunities to harness the power of computers to better modern life, they still have flaws. 

The Algorithmic Accountability Act, sponsored by (2020 presidential candidate) Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey and Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, seeks to address some of these flaws. Algorithms are essentially just lines and lines of code, and as such, they cannot think for themselves. However, algorithms often have the unintended effect of reflecting the unconscious biases of their creators. For example, a facial recognition algorithm called Rekognition, championed by computer engineers at Amazon, was recently accused of racism. In a study conducted at MIT, Rekognition could successfully identify the genders of lighter-skinned individuals, but misidentified the gender of darker-skinned individuals at a 20-30% rate. This isn’t because the algorithm itself harbors prejudice against people of color, but because its coders originally only trained it on white subjects. This major oversight could have dangerous implications in the real world — a recent Georgia Tech study concluded that the algorithms behind self-driving vehicles were consistently unable to identify dark-skinned people as pedestrians. In practice, that would make dark-skinned people more likely to get hit by self-driving cars than white people. Driverless cars aren’t the only technology accused of potentially dangerous bias — Amazon, Facebook, and Google have all been accused of algorithmic bias in the past five years. 

The Algorithmic Accountability Act would be a huge stride forward for ethics in tech. Under the act, large tech company and data broker algorithms would be held accountable to a greater degree — they would have to evaluate any algorithm involving behavior prediction, sensitive data, or the monitoring of publicly accessible spaces for discrimination and potential privacy breaches. If any concerns arose in these evaluations, tech companies would need to address them in a timely manner. This way, we can reap all the technological benefits that algorithms have to offer, but without suffering the discriminatory, hurtful, and even physically harmful consequences of race, gender, or class-based algorithmic bias. 

 

How Colleges Fund Fossil Fuels: Oil and Gas Divestment Explained

All around the world, environmental activist organizations have jumped on the strategy of divestment. From 350.org to Extinction Rebellion to groups of student activists and citizens, thousands of people have realized that halting the institutional funding of fossil fuel giants may be the best way to bring about a reduction in emissions on an individual scale.

But what is divestment? And how does it work?

What is Divestment?

Divestment is the process of selling shares of a publicly traded company. In the case of fossil fuels, it means dumping investment in Shell and other oil companies. When protest doesn’t get a company’s attention, taking profit away from them is a way to demand it. Large organizations, like municipal governments and schools, often invest part of their employee pension plans in oil company stocks. This is done to build an endowment of funding for the school/institution to use for operational expenses. Getting just one college to divest can remove hundreds of millions from the fossil fuel industry very quickly. “In the most recent year with available data, 832 endowed U.S. public and private not-forprofit colleges and universities held assets totaling $516 billion, which averages to $620 million per-institution,” as reported by the Marcellus Coalition.

The History Of A Campus-Based Movement

This strategy traces its roots back to the 1970s, when much of the world divested from South African business interests to protest apartheid, with 350.org starting the utilization of the use of this strategy against fossil fuel companies in 2012. As a campus-based movement, divestment has become an issue at colleges and universities worldwide. According to EcoWatch, “about 150 campuses worldwide have committed to fossil fuel divestment.”

At the University of Chicago alone, over 250 professors support divestment. Unfortunately, the school’s administration, including president Robert Zimmer, have resisted this change- even allowing fossil fuel companies to hold conferences using school resources. Extinction Rebellion Chicago recently held a nonviolent act of civil disobedience at University of Chicago’s “Booth Energy Forward 2019” conference, which (amongst others) was sponsored by Chevron and Exelon.

In a statement, XR Chicago member Victoria said that, “This conference’s goal is to discuss how to maximize returns on fossil fuel investments, and to act as a networking event for graduate students at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. We are here to not only confront the members of the conference, but to also reach out to these students to question why they seek jobs within an industry that is destroying the planet they, presumably, also wish to inhabit.”

She continued, “Chicago just became the largest city in the USA to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050– so why is one of its most prestigious Universities acting as the networking arm for an industry that has been proven to be the single greatest cause of global warming?”

Member Joe agreed by stating that, “we simply can't allow multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel companies to meet, network, and continue profit strategies under the guise of Education, or at all for that matter,” and that “it's time for these institutions to act like the cultural leaders that they claim to be.”

Victoria concluded that, “In 2016 250 professors at the University of Chicago in solidarity with student activists, urged the elite private university to purge its $7.6 billion endowment in coal, oil and gas companies. The university did not act then, we are hoping they will act today.”

Despite the stalemate at the University of Chicago, divestment efforts are becoming so strong on college campuses that they’ve given rise to other activist groups. The Sunrise Movement began as a group of students who had connected over their desire to get their school to divest.

Why Divestment Is A Good Strategy

After just half a decade, divestment campaigns are starting to get results. In 2017, New York State divested $390 billion in oil, gas, and coal interests from its pension plan. Over 40 academic institutions have responded to student and faculty demands and dropped fossil fuels, including Stanford University. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the nation of Ireland have divested, too. In a watershed moment, Norway is beginning a massive divestment campaign that will eventually remove $8 billion from the oil and gas sector. Altogether, over $6 trillion had been divested from fossil fuel as of September 2018. 

Most significantly, oil companies are beginning to feel the pinch. In 2017, Royal Dutch Shell quietly reported that divestment was a significant threat to its bottom line. If the size of divestments continues to grow, then the oil giants will finally have to make changes. Investor money is talking. Soon, Shell and its cohorts might have to listen.

You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion International on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion Chicago on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We're Worried About Climate Change, So We're Throwing a Party!

This Earth Day Weekend, we will be hosting a party for those who are worried about climate change and would like to learn more about what they can do to get involved with the cause!

A live performance from comedian Daniella Mazzio, in addition to an open bar, light refreshments, sustainable product samplings from Salvage Food Products, and environmentally conscious household essentials curated by Trestle will be free to those who attend.

Representatives and members of area activist groups will be in attendance, and will be available to answer any questions you may have about getting involved!

  • 1562 N Milwaukee, Bru Chicago / 7-9:30pm

  • Tickets are free at the door, or $5 to reserve a space.

  • 21+ for open bar

"As a stand-up and musical comedian, Daniella Mazzio has performed at Sketch on the Rocks, The Clever Comedy Show, Make Me Laugh and Win My Money, The Junk Drawer, Szpitalna 1 (Kraków, Poland), You Joke Like a Girl, The Strange Hour, Live From Mom's Basement, and Arts & Culture Club. She has be opened for Improvised Board Games, Breakfast of Champions, Silly Point, and Spliff, and recently headlined Mary’s Comedy Club at Hamburger Mary’s Chicago." -Daniella Mazzio

"Two chef buddies who realized that with enough alcohol and science, anything is possible. Through trial, error and chance encounters, they have created a system to convert alcohol manufacturing wastage into creative food products. With their chef coats behind them, Nicholas Beaulieu and Jason Garland look forward to expanding their vision to a brewery near you." -Salvage Food Products

"Our team is made up of people who, like many, would rather support companies who operate by the values we believe in, but often find our dollars going to convenience and competitive prices. We think it’s too hard and time consuming to discover companies who do more than simply earn a profit. It doesn’t have to be this way." -Trestle

You can find out more about Daniella Mazzio on her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

You can learn more about Salvage Food Products on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

You can learn more about Trestle on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Extinction Rebellion Finds Roots in Chicago's Climate Activist Community

Extinction Rebellion has taken the media landscape by storm. From an activist spark in London, it has turned into a global wildfire, catching the attention of news outlets with eye-catching acts of protest. Under the motto Fight For Life, Rebel For Life, this movement pursues dramatic climate action through non-violent protests that are meant to keep climate change constant in the public’s attention.

But beyond the headlines, XR is a fascinating collage of activists from around the world whose frustration with political inertia has culminated in a last-ditch push for political action. In Kind sat down with Joe Phillips of Extinction Rebellion Chicago to learn more about the movement and its goals.

History

On October 26, 2018, the Guardian published an open letter from over 100 members of the British scientific establishment. It demanded government action to curb climate change and declared that the British government, by ignoring the danger, had become complicit in disaster. It called for a citizens’ assembly, though it didn’t define what that might look like. In December, the Guardian published another letter along the same lines. 

Meanwhile, Roger Hallam, a student at King’s College, had been trying to get his school to divest from fossil fuels for two years. In late 2018, frustrated by slow action and endless delays, he changed tactics. Six weeks of direct action got what two years of hard work had not. Hallam and his fellow activists knew they had hit on a model that worked. Extinction Rebellion was born. 

Soon, the rebellion had spread worldwide. Joe can’t guess at an exact number, but reports that the movement’s head count must be in the tens of thousands already. While Europe and the US currently have the highest concentration of chapters, XR movements are popping up in India, Brazil, Burkina Faso. The map of XR chapters grows more crowded every month.

Goals

While Extinction Rebellion is not against the existence of government, it does believe that “business as usual” has caused great harm to the environment. “It must be held accountable for the devastation around us and transform into a government that will ensure the safety of all people,” Joe says. This is especially true in the environmental justice sense. XR US is particularly concerned about communities of color, indigenous people, and the global South, all of which are vulnerable to neglect and environmental exploitation. However, the international movement’s focus is often more generally focused on climate change.

In a time of dread, XR embraces a kind of informed optimism. The IPCC estimates that there’s a 5% change that the world can keep the temperature of the planet from rising more than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. This would take monumental effort and cooperation unprecedented in world history, but the alternative is literally beyond imagination. Extinction Rebellion - and every other climate activist on Earth - knows the stakes. But XR believes that a 5% chance of success is more than enough when the fate of humanity is in question. “All we are lacking is the political will,” states Joe, “XR’s mission is to see that 5% chance and push 95% harder to get us there.” If it can mobilize 3.5% of the world’s population, XR believes that it can make real change happen. That would mean an activist army of about 263.5 million people. 

As climate anxiety rises and moderates become increasingly disturbed by government inaction, it seems possible that many more will turn activist. If XR itself can’t raise itself to millions strong, then it could at least swell the ranks of general climate change protest and political action, inspiring previously unmotivated people to look up a movement that suits their personality. If Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, 350.org, the Sunshine Movement, and all the rest were to collectively grow powerful in numbers, then global change could become a real possibility. It’s the dream, and XR is determined to help bring it to life. As humanity perches on the brink of true catastrophe, a dream might be what tips us back from the precipice.

Meanwhile, chapters like XR Chicago focus on divestment and non-violent civil disobedience. They focus on the local and the immediate. Change will come, the activists believe. Direct action works.

Demands

The international XR movement has three demands, according to its website:

  • The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.

  • The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.

  • A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

The demands of XR US are slightly different, adding a fourth point:

  • We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

Joe cites the US’s poor record on ecological justice as the reason that XR US amended the international movement’s language. While the UK has its own troubling history with racism, he tells us, those issues are more immediate in the US. There has also been criticism of the UK group’s focus on climate. Detractors claim that despite its emphasis on climate change, it isn’t focused enough on racism and environmental justice. As the entire XR movement is less than a year old, it remains to be seen if XR International will join XR US in adopting intersectionality as a core tenet.

Regenerative Culture

The concept of regenerative culture is nebulous, even by the standards of Extinction Rebellion members themselves, but it is crucial to what XR stands for. Its policies promote it as a necessary piece of the global healing that must happen, suggesting that part of what environmental activism must fix is the human soul itself. It’s a novel concept: better people make better users of the environment.

But what is regenerative culture? Different people interpret it in different ways. Joe takes a personal approach. “To me, on a very personal level, regenerative culture means taking care of ourselves and our loved ones through this difficult and painful process of reckoning with climate breakdown.” 

The psychological effect of climate activism is undeniable, even for people not directly involved in activism. The APA has associated rising levels of PTSD and substance abuse with fear of climate change, also known as ecoanxiety. Activists who think about, talk about, and act out about climate change constantly may be at risk of experiencing this condition. Burnout, Joe tells me, is something to dread and avoid. To prevent it, he takes care of himself by meditating and making sure he stays off of social media for a few hours every day.

Other philosophies on regenerative culture focus on humankind’s relationship with the natural world. A culture that prioritizes the Earth is one that won’t cause an ecological collapse; it might not value the latest iPhone and instead focus on designing for systemic health. A shift this size would be tectonic in nature, but XR doesn’t strive to keep its goals small. In fact, its outspoken desire to change the world quickly is a refreshing change from the moderation of traditional environmentalist groups. 

Strategy

In the past, major activist movements that have set out to address climate change have tried to set reasonable goals and metersticks for success. In some ways, these have been successful; 350.org is one organization whose quiet policy work has made a large cumulative difference. However, like a healthy ecosystem, activism needs members of many different niches to succeed in its goals. The niche that Extinction Rebellion occupies is far different from a policy-oriented group like 350.org, the Sunrise Movement, or the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Unlike these organizations, XR does not try to work with politicians. Individual XR members often support specific policies, but the group itself isn’t interested in convincing leadership to make changes. Instead, it bases its operational theory on the concept of the Overton window. 

The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, represents the range of topics that the public will tolerate in conversation and debate. For example, giving animals full American citizenship currently does not fall into the Overton window because the public would generally consider it a preposterous idea. However, vegetarianism, and even veganism, in the name of animal rights is now a common topic of conversation, and there is even legislation that protects animal welfare. Once, those laws might have seemed radical or impractical. Now, it’s a reality thanks partially to activists who shifted the Overton window.

That’s what XR is trying to do with climate change. Using non-violent civil disobedience, it aims to become a topic of conversation. People who laugh about climate activists stripping in the British parliament may view the Green New Deal as a more moderate, reasonable effort in comparison. 

XR’s actions range across the creative spectrum, with the point being to get people talking. The more outlandish the protest, the better the chance that it’ll make the news. Joe relates that he contacted an XR protester from the UK to find out how to mix up large batches of super glue. Why? Because XR UK activists have had great success supergluing themselves to buildings! 

Organization

Because of Extinction Rebellion’s decentralized structure, the recipe for the aforementioned superglue appears to differ not only between different countries, but between different states. This is an apt illustration of XR’s self-governance. 

Decentralization allows XR to run as affiliated small groups instead of one giant hierarchy. That means that geographic areas, like the Chicago Extinction Rebellion wing, can react to local priorities and events rapidly. There’s no overarching approval process and no central authority controlling all of XR’s actions. Some members take on leadership roles, but otherwise, this is a movement of like-minded individuals working together toward a common goal and a common good.

The only requirement for a local Extinction Rebellion chapter to remain a branch of the international Extinction Rebellion movement is that it supports the group’s established guidelines. That’s how XR US can add a demand, but not subtract one. In the absence of tentpole leadership, Extinction Rebellion must maintain its core principles as a guiding light. 

Because XR is decentralized, it can draw from the social structure that exists in localities like Chicago and London. By tapping into this, XR can make a new network of people with preexisting relationships, who already share a passion for environmental activism and a desire to do something about the state of the world. While large-scale events like the London bridge closures draw new members, Joe feels that the movement is only healthy if it thrives at a smaller level.

Funding

Due to XR’s decentralization, its exact financial footprint is difficult to determine. A March 2019 article in Forbes reported that XR had raised over £200,000 in less than a year, but the writer wasn’t clear whether the piece was referencing the entire movement or just its British origins. Most of XR’s money comes from the micro-donations of friends, family, and well-wishers. These flow to the movement through GoFundMe campaigns and events. A DONATE button appears prominently on the web pages of both XR US and XR International. Philanthropists, companies, and partner organizations also support the cause. 

However, most of the expensive hard work of being an activist organization seems to be happening on the parts of the activists themselves. As usual in movements like this one, XR protesters are volunteers. They show up. That donation of time is a large part of what’s caused XR to sweep the globe.

Past Events

Because it is decentralized, XR does not keep a running tally of individual actions. Since there over 300 chapters already, each organizing its own demonstrations, the only way to track actions is through news coverage and individual chapter reports. Actions can range from disruptions at city council meetings to roadblocks to buckets of “blood” poured on the ground at Downing Street. 

In less than a year of operation, Extinction Rebellion have carried out hundreds of small and large actions, making itself known in a way that larger, more moderate organizations have taken decades to do— echoing the emergency of climate change. To an XR activist, there is no more time to waste. If a few gallons of water and food coloring poured down a major street will raise awareness about climate change, then that is worth getting arrested for. After all, what wouldn’t you do to avert the end of the world?

Going Forward

Many new XR chapters are just spreading their wings. Although they have already held smaller actions, Extinction Rebellion Chicago is about to hold its first major public event on April 15th. This action, which will be located outside of the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, will be part of the first XR International Week. XR chapters worldwide will hold demonstrations until April 22nd, amplifying their demands through cooperation and sheer numbers. 

Joe also reports that XR Chicago is growing, as is the XR movement worldwide. “It’s an exciting time to be part of the movement”, he says. It’s vibrant and building momentum. As it moves forward into 2019, its voice will become louder and its actions become bolder. There may never be a better time for such an outspoken activist movement. Extinction Rebellion is here, and they’re ready to make the world change.

You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion International on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

You can find out more about Extinction Rebellion Chicago on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

The Equality Act Aims to Ensure Equal Rights for All

The United States of America is founded on the unequivocal belief that all humans are created equal and deserve unequivocal human rights. Although the Founding Fathers initially only intended these rights to go towards landowning white men, over the years, they’ve been extended to protect more and more demographics. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, ability status, or religion in the United States. However, there’s still a long way to go. The US still does not have any federal legislation that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that the decision to legally protect against sexuality-based discrimination is left up to individual state governments, but the majority of state governments have passed no such legislation. Only 22 states (including Washington DC) have passed laws that explicitly protect members of the LGBTQ community from employment and housing discrimination. In the remaining 29 states, members of the LGBTQ community can legally be fired or denied housing just for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. Until all Americans are protected from discrimination, including members of the LGBTQ community, we cannot in good faith claim to be a free and equal country.

A 2015 poll found that 63% of LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing some form of discrimination in their personal lives. Almost 50% of LGBTQ Americans have experienced workplace discrimination. 14% have been discriminated against on the housing market, and 8% reported discrimination at school. The unfortunate, infuriating truth is that discrimination is a common, unifying experience among members of the LGBTQ community. The Equality Act, championed by the Human Rights Campaign, seeks to change this unfortunate truth. If it gets passed, the Equality Act will protect all LGBTQ Americans against discrimination in the workplace, the education system, the housing market, and in receiving services because of their gender identity or sexuality. It would amend all preexisting civil rights laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Most importantly, it would allow LGBTQ Americans to exist proudly and publicly, without fear of retribution or discrimination because of who they are.

Many people believe that the fight for LGBTQ rights ended in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Although that was undoubtedly a huge stride forward for the LGBTQ community, the raging debate around the Equality Act proves that there’s still important work to be done. Right now, it’s perfectly legal for employers, landlords, educators, and businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. On a pragmatic level, this makes it difficult for LGBTQ Americans to live their lives openly. Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer can be a huge gamble, since LGBTQ people can never be sure how the people around them will react. The worst-case scenario is exactly what the Equality Act seeks to prevent — coming out might mean getting fired from a job, getting denied housing, and uprooting a lifetime’s worth of safety and security. On an ideological level, the fact that it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people makes it easier to excuse acts of homophobia and transphobia in people’s personal lives. By passing the Equality Act, the federal government would be taking a clear stance in alliance with LGBTQ citizens and residents and against bigotry and hatred. By explicitly supporting the LGBTQ community, the federal government would be taking a step to actively discourage homophobia and transphobia. 

Although the overarching goal of the Equality Act is to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, many of its subsections seek to help protect the rights of other demographics besides the LGBTQ community. For example, the Equality Act will help protect women from sexual harassment in public spaces, like restaurants, stores, and transportation by requiring businesses and service providers to explicitly address and take measures to prevent gender-based harassment. The Equality Act also seeks to eliminate the Pink Tax, or the practice of arbitrarily charging women higher prices for goods and services, from clothing to car repairs. The Equality Act will also strengthen protections for people of color in public places. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, hotels and restaurants are prohibited from discriminating based on race or ethnicity. The Equality Act will extend civil rights protections to ensure that transportation providers, retailers, accountants, and many other types of businesses do not discriminate on the basis of race.

Additionally, the Equality Act will go a long way in protecting LGBTQ youth and parents. Under the Equality Act, all schools that receive any amount of federal funding will no longer be able to discriminate against LGBTQ students. This means that transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming students will gain the legal right to use whatever bathroom or locker room best suits their gender identity. It also means that schools will no longer be allowed to prevent students from forming LGBTQ clubs or student organizations. The Equality Act will also have a huge impact on the adoption and foster care system. Currently, adoption agencies and foster care institutions are legally allowed to deny prospective parents from adopting or fostering children because of their sexuality or gender identity. This means that many children in the foster care system are prevented from joining loving, caring, and capable homes, just because their prospective parents or foster parents are gay, lesbian, or transgender. The Equality Act will prohibit child welfare agencies from taking sexual orientation or gender identity into consideration during the foster or adoption process, creating a fairer and less discriminatory child welfare system.

As of 2017, 70% of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, indicated that they supported laws that would protect the LGBTQ community against discrimination. Despite this widespread support among the American people, there is still considerable pushback against the Equality Act in Congress, the place where support for the bill matters most. Over the past three-and-a-half years, the Equality Act has been repeatedly introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every time that the bill has been introduced in the past, it has died in committee. Most recently, the Equality Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 2019. If you’re interested in doing your part to encourage your local representatives to support this bill, there are several ways that you can get involved. One of the easiest ways to get involved is to call or email your local congressperson. The Human Rights Campaign’s website includes convenient links that help you contact your member of Congress and support the Equality Act by phone or by email. If you’re looking for an even more hands-on approach, you can also become a grassroots lobbyist for the Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign’s website also provides a 30-minute online lobbying course, which will help prepare you to effectively advocate for the Equality Act. Finally, you can search for events near you, where you can show up and do your part to support equality for all Americans. 

Until the federal government takes an explicit stand in protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination and harassment, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for LGBTQ Americans to feel safe and respected in their own country. The Equality Act seeks to make good on the ideology of equality that this nation was founded upon, which is why it’s crucial that we support it any way that we can. 

You can learn more about the Equality Act here, or follow the Human Rights Campaign on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Connection Is Key for Chicago-Based Music Duo Zigtebra

There’s a unique sound behind Chicago-based band Zigtebra’s music. Self-described as lo-fi indie rock, you can’t help but move to it. But it’s not just the synthetic beats or spunky lyrics that make the music mesmerizing. After talking with Emily Rose, 28, and Joe Zeph, 34, the “dream pop duo” behind the band, I quickly learned how their love for the music translates to their audience, making even a newcomer to the sound love their music too. 

Joe grew up in church and was therefore exposed to music at an early age whereas Emily’s background is in dance. But although delayed in formal music training, Emily’s passion for music has always been present, which is apparent in her dedication to the craft. 

In 2017, Zigtebra wrote one new song every month of the year and went on a 120-day summer tour. The following year they toured for nine months playing house shows and alt spaces around America. 

Emily described the tour as a learning experience that was “totally personal” and “satisfying.” She says, “It was the best kind of hard work. I would rather show up to that kind of hard work than hard work I’m not passionate about. That year changed everything. It grew me more than anything I had ever done.” 

That year, Joe and Emily started writing songs together – a process that transformed their songwriting journey. All of their music comes from personal experiences they’ve gone through whether it’s “scorching heart ache or longing.” 

Emily says, “The coolest part about our music is that it’s not the story that we own. It’s a story everybody knows and we want to write music that people can hear and think this is how I feel because falling in love, being dumped or missing somebody is a universal thing we all go through.”

“When you realize your friends or even strangers have felt the same jealousy heartache, loss and embarrassment, it brings everyone together and I really love that – it makes me feel a little bit closer to everybody.” 

And that’s what Emily and Joe want fans to get from their music – simply knowing they aren’t alone in whatever they’re going through, no matter how good or how bad. 

Emily, who doesn’t come from a music background, also says she hopes people feel empowered to share their creative or artistic ideas with others.

“I never want to come across as pretentious or too cool,” she says. “I want to feel connected to everybody because that’s what makes me really happy is going to shows where the artist is accessible.” 

She adds, “We always try to come on stage already thinking we’re connected to the audience instead of feeling self-conscious about how we look or what we’re doing.”

And by doing that, Emily and Joe have created a space where anyone and everyone can feel free to be themselves and connect with one another through their shared loved of music. 

Emily and Joe have come a long way since they first started making music and performing together, and in terms of their career, they still have a long way to go until they make it “big” so to speak, but they’re eager to see what the future holds and look forward to seeing it through with their fans. 

“In two years, it would be great to have an album made that I am in total love with,” Emily says. “To be able to go further and deeper down the hole and extend beyond the release of Major Crush.”

She adds, “If you start with realism and then go toward expressionism, Major Crush was our realism phase. We passed art class 101 and now we’re going onto weirder stuff.” 

And as for what’s next on the agenda, Emily and Joe would both love to sign to a record label and go on tour through Europe. 

They’re big dreams but dreams that don’t seem that far-fetched. Emily tells me she knew when she met Joe that they were going to make music together for a long time. 

“Everyone knows how that is,” she says. “When you have a friend that gets the same things you get and are curious about the same stuff. Regardless of what people thought of Zigtebra, we both knew it was going to be something we loved and that it wasn’t going to be perfect but we were going to do our best to make it get there.” 

The process hasn’t been easy. They’ve sacrificed a lot along the way and they’ve had their fair share of challenges, but it’s been worth it. 

“In this moment, we’re better than we ever have been in our craft,” she says. “And we can only continue to get better from here.” 

Find out more about Zigtebra on their website or Bandcamp. Follow along on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.