40 Years After Jonestown, This Is How a Survivor Wants the Victims to Be Remembered

Forty years ago, more than 900 members of the California-based cult, Peoples Temple, died in a mass murder-suicide initiated by the eccentric, alluring and increasingly paranoid, Jim Jones. It was largest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11. Most people know the story or at least pieces of Peoples Temple history, as Jones is one of the most infamous cult leaders in American culture. 

 Peoples Temple members gathered with a banner advertising Jim Jones and Peoples Temple in San Francisco 1972.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Peoples Temple members gathered with a banner advertising Jim Jones and Peoples Temple in San Francisco 1972. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

But despite what we read or watched in many of the subsequent television shows and documentaries, “outsiders” may never fully understand the how and why behind the mass suicide. 

But Laura Johnston Kohl, a Jonestown survivor, says the world shouldn’t focus on how the victims died but rather how they lived – with a collective hope and desire to make the world better.

A Young Activist 

 Laura Johnston Kohl (center) with other Peoples Temple members during a refueling stop on the way to Guyana in 1974.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (center) with other Peoples Temple members during a refueling stop on the way to Guyana in 1974. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Today, Laura is 71, years and heartaches removed from her 22-year-old self who became a member of Peoples Temple. She grew up in Washington D.C., becoming a young adult during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The Vietnam War was tearing our country apart. Young men were dying halfway across the world and the Civil Rights movement was bringing racial injustices to the forefront. 

“People were dying and I wanted to do something to change that,” Laura says. “John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were all assassinated and I wanted to do something to change the world.”

So she protested at the Pentagon in the late 60s and enrolled at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut where she studied philosophy until she failed out after three years. 

“I had a guidance counselor ask me how you flunk out after three years because no one flunks out after three years – it’s usually after the first semester or first year but I guess I’ve always been an odd duck out,” she says. 

In 1969, she got married but soon after got a divorce. She later found love with a fellow activist, when she dated a Black Panther. However, this relationship was also not meant to be. 

Every Wednesday night, Laura would open up her apartment so the Black Panthers could hold weekly meetings even though she lived in a building with all white, mostly middle-class residents and at the time, a lot of neighborhoods were not integrated. 

But one evening, Laura’s then-boyfriend shot another member who was supposedly sitting too closely to Laura during a meeting. The victim didn’t die, but Laura recalls how she, as a white woman couldn’t go with the other members to take the victim to the hospital. She was left alone in her apartment, tasked with cleaning up the blood in the living room, in the stairwell and in the lobby. 

“There are times in my life that things have happened that are so clear,” she says. “We call it a teachable moment in education but that was a moment in my life I realized things were going really wrong. My calling was to be involved in politics and as I was doing the clean up, I knew this wasn’t the right way to do that.”

In March 1970, wanting a fresh start, she moved to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco to be with her older sister. Less than a week after moving to California she was introduced to Jim Jones. 

When Good People Follow A Bad Leader 

 Jim Jones speaking to Peoples Temple in 1978.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jim Jones speaking to Peoples Temple in 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Her older sister brought her to Peoples Temple but rejected the church mainly because she was put off by Jones’ oversized ego. But Laura wasn’t naïve – she saw it too but overlooked his hubris because she was “delighted” to belong to a family of like-minded people. 

“The ends justified the means,” she says. “I viewed Jim as my protector and a father figure – I thought it was going to work.”

“They [the members] were some of the best people I ever knew. Just because Jim Jones was bad doesn’t mean that that the people who trusted him were bad. They just wanted to make the world better – the whole truth doesn’t get explained very often.”

One of the things Laura loved most about Peoples Temple was how it exposed her to people and things she never knew before. In her early days, she recalls meeting lawyers, medical students, accountants, teachers and “wonderful people of all colors and all backgrounds.”  

“The part of Peoples Temple I love even to this day was that we were a group of people who had more differences than similarities,” she says. 

“When Jim talked about having an integrated community, we had all visualized that. We were people who were not happy with the status quo and so however different we were in race, background, education or economics, we made a commitment to bring about an integrated community – these were people determined and dedicated to do that.” 

 Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) performing in Jonestown 1978.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) performing in Jonestown 1978. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Their faith wasn’t in Jones. Their initial and fundamental goal was to move the country away from racial and societal divisions into a more inclusive era – a country with “freedom and racial equality,” Laura says. 

Extremely ambitious goals required even more extreme mindsets and work ethics. In sum, the members of Peoples Temple took their political duties seriously. They integrated everything they did and tackled stereotypes, racial training and entitlement in order to bring about a change. 

“People say Jim was a great speaker with a charismatic personality and he was all those different things. But really, he just brought together people who were already dissatisfied with how the world was going,” she says. 

“Even when we weren’t with him, we were a group of people determined to make a difference in this world and not accept things. A lot of the time that’s overlooked.”

During her time in Peoples Temple, Laura became friends with people who had sat at lunch counters in Alabama, who had worked with the Black Panthers in Oakland or who worked with the Native Americans to restore their rights. 

While Laura admits Jones did focus them along the way, she says the members were willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of society before they met him. 

Dreams In A Different Land  

 Guyanese Drivers License of Laura Johnston Kohl.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Guyanese Drivers License of Laura Johnston Kohl. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

In March 1977 – seven years from when she first joined Peoples Temple – Laura moved to Guyana. Jones hired Laura to work in Georgetown to send the necessary items to get Jonestown up and running.

She bought everything from machinery parts to new shoes and medicine and shipped the supplies by boat, which would take another 24 hours to reach Jonestown, after the ship docked in Georgetown. 

She held this role for a year until March 1978 when Jones asked her to move to Jonestown, where she worked on the public services department and agricultural crew. At night, she taught Spanish to the children and worked in the law office. 

Although she loved her work in Jonestown and Georgetown, the cracks in Jones’ façade were starting to appear. “He was finding out a lot that summer – the summer that there were nearly 1,000 people there,” Laura says. 

“He was finding out Jonestown was never going to be self-sufficient, he was finding out that at least nine families had gone to court stating that Jim didn’t have the legal authorization to have certain kids there – some were foster kids and other were taken by their grandparents or other relatives,” she says. “And later, two of his secretaries left Jonestown.”

And on top of that, he was finding out Congressman Leo Ryan planned to visit Guyana. 

 Jonestown victim, Evelyn Leroy and Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) speaking with a Guyanese man in Georgetown 1977.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jonestown victim, Evelyn Leroy and Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) speaking with a Guyanese man in Georgetown 1977. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

As the walls started to cave in, Jones became increasingly more paranoid and his response was to spread this fear among the other Peoples Temple members. 

In late October 1978, Jones sent Laura back to Georgetown. She went willingly; not realizing everything he knew or what was to come weeks later. 

Days before the Jonestown massacre, Congressman Ryan paid a visit to those living in Georgetown, asking them about Jones and how they were liking it Guyana. 

Laura didn’t know Jones’ primary intent of sending her to Georgetown was for appearances, or in other words, to “stack the house” with people who loved Jonestown and would personify that love and stability to the congressman.

“I loved Guyana. I loved working in Georgetown, I loved Jonestown – I loved all of it,” she says. “So what Jim had done is that he had put everyone in Georgetown who liked it to make sure they were in front and the people who had reservations were sent back to Jonestown. He had set up a situation where Ryan only saw the cheerleaders of the group and that’s what I was.”

The events leading up to the massacre are well known as the murder of Congressman Ryan and four others set the stage for what was to come in both Jonestown and Georgetown where Sharon Amos, top aide to Jones, killed herself and her three children. 

There were about 50 people living in Georgetown, with Laura being one of the people not present in Jonestown where the mass murder-suicide took place. 

Laura used to believe it was a fluke that she survived but now, knowing what she does about Jones, she realizes that it was all part of his strategy to have positive people front and center in Georgetown. Essentially, what saved her was her devotion to Peoples Temple, which ironically could have also been the thing that killed her. 

“There’s no way that I could watch 917 of the people I love die and for some reason think I shouldn’t,” she says. “So I can’t imagine surviving Jonestown. It was tough enough when I didn’t see it so there’s not much question in my mind that I would survive something like that.” 

A Survivor Honors Her Family 

 Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far right) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

In May of this year, Laura was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. She says it’s an up in the air diagnosis but she’s currently undergoing chemotherapy and fortunately, has the support from other survivors who have also been instrumental in helping her cope with the loss of the people she initially thought she would be spending the rest of her life with. 

“There can never be closure,” she says. “Only acknowledgement for the people that died. Fifteen of my closest friends are people who were a part of Peoples Temple. There’s not a way for someone who wasn’t a survivor to get it.”

Since the events at Jonestown 40 years ago, Laura says her view of leadership and religion has changed drastically. She now describes activism as her religion and makes a point to question people in a position of power – and encourages others to do the same. 

 Jonestown survivors Claire Janaro, Juanell Smart (right), Laura Johnston Kohl (standing) celebrate Thanksgiving in 2009.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Jonestown survivors Claire Janaro, Juanell Smart (right), Laura Johnston Kohl (standing) celebrate Thanksgiving in 2009. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

She currently lives in San Diego where she’s heavily involved with the Southern Poverty Law Center, immigration groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) where she works to make changes to America’s prison system. 

“It’s really important to get a justified incarceration system so it’s not a reversal to slavery,” she says. “There’s a huge preponderance of people in prison – people of color who have had misdemeanors or lightweight cases and they’re held over because they don’t have money for bail.”

And last year, Laura even had a young man receiving sanctuary live at her home while he was finishing high school. 

Laura believes the members of Peoples Temple who died would be proud of her for what she’s doing but she also thinks that on November 18, 1978 the world lost key figures that would have been crucial in helping her address these issues. 

 Laura Johnston Kohl (far left) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014.  Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

Laura Johnston Kohl (far left) at the 36th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, CA, on November 18, 2014. Photo courtesy of Laura Johnston Kohl via Peoples Temple/Jonestown Gallery (Flickr)

“I think we lost a lot of people who would be vigilant in fighting the kind of stuff we’re seeing everyday. They were people that would take on establishment to stop the really horrific stuff we’re seeing,” she says. “So in a way it was a terrible loss. Those people would have been the soldiers of civil rights and human rights and for them not to be here – they’re much needed these days.”

But although there are not here to spread their message, Laura is using her voice and actions to spread her own message – one that has nothing to do with Jim Jones. 

“We have to understand Jim was a con artist who was able to con wonderful people. We don’t have to spend much more time realizing he was a broken piece of machinery who was somehow able to find 900 of the best people in the world to come work with him,” she says.

“I don’t want to focus on him so much – he’s dead already. I do hate him but it’s a waste of time to dwell on the hate because it doesn’t solve anything. The only thing I can do with my life is make it better and honor the people who died by remembering the great work they did and the vision they had and how they were motivated by integrity and love and trying to make the world better and I don’t want to lose track of that.” 

Hundreds of Companies Are Giving Employees Time Off to Vote

In 2014, the US experienced a record low in the number of people turning out to vote. Just 36.4% of eligible voters turned up at the polls, the lowest amount since World War II. Many of these people fail to turn up because they can’t — they are too busy working.

Rose Marcario, the CEO of outdoor clothing store Patagonia, made the decision to close all of its stores November 6th starting in 2016 so that employees would have the opportunity to vote. She made the call for other businesses to do the same.

Her call has been answered. A new campaign called, “Time to Vote,” is doing just that. The campaign was started by companies like Patagonia, and asks businesses all over the US to give their employees paid time off to vote. Almost 325 companies are giving their employees paid time off so they have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election. This includes companies such as Pinterest, Gofundme, and change.org.

As Raina Moskowitz, the Senior VP of People, Strategy, and Member Services put it, “Voting is one of the most important ways that we can participate in our government. Election Day isn’t a national holiday, and it isn’t easy for everyone to get to the polls outside of working hours. That’s why Etsy provides employees with the option to vote during working hours if they choose to help ensure their voices can be heard.”

Not all of these businesses are closing, but all of them do work with their employees to allow them to vote as conveniently as possible. Options include taking a long lunch break, coming in late, leaving early, or not working altogether. Of these, the best option is often taking the day off, due to the length of voting lines which can sometimes be as long as a 7 hour wait.

Business support like this is essential to improving voter turn-out. Currently there are no federal laws that require businesses to give their employees time to vote. It is entirely up to the individual states whether to require time to vote or not. As of 2018, only 23 states have some sort of requirements in place to help voters turn up at the polls.

While it is too soon to tell whether these voting campaigns will help for the 2018 elections, previous efforts seem to be working. Last year the turnout was 56%, much better than the dismal 36.4% of 2014. Unfortunately, even this improved turnout is one of the lowest in developed countries around the world. Seoul, South Korea has over 77% of its eligible population registered as voters. Mexico, Slavakia, and Estonia all have greater voter turnout than the US.

Voting is a vital part of our country. As a democracy, voting is how we decide where to go together, as a society. Everything from who our leader is, to what laws are made, all depend on the votes of the people. You can help shape the face of the country by voting, so take the time and vote November 6th.

Find a polling place near you.

Need a Ride on Election Day? Lyft and Uber Have You Covered.

This year, more attention than ever has been placed on politics. With tensions heating up for the mid-term elections, it is more important than ever that we get out and vote. Big companies have been getting in on the movement to encourage voting, including giant ride sharing firms such as Uber and Lyft.

Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced that on November 6th, Uber will be partnering with the campaign #VoteTogether to offer free rides to the polls. That means anyone can vote, even if they aren't able to drive, or don't have a car to get there. Last year an estimated 15 million people didn't vote because they had no transportation to do so, a huge portion of the voting population.

Often the people who don't have transportation are from the same economic background—those who are too poor to afford a car, college students, and younger people. This means that the views of these people all but disappear when it comes down to choosing new policies. It's important to have the voices of everyone in the nation voting, in order to get balanced legislation and politicians who truly reflect the needs and wants of the people. Every time a ballot isn't turned in, it makes that balanced country a little harder to obtain.

With 15 million votes missing every year due primarily to lack of transportation, that's a big hole in the voice of the people. 

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Thanks to ride sharing companies and campaigns like #VoteTogether however, that is now changing. You'll be able to get a ride where ever these companies are available, and get your vote in even if you don't own a car or are not allowed to drive for other reasons. 

If you're not sure where to vote at, Uber has also made the task of finding a polling station easier by adding a polling station button to their app available on November 6th. You can get to the nearest polling station and cast your vote easily, with just a click of a button. 

Lyft has also offered discounted and free services for those needing a ride on Election day. They made their announcement in August, with discounts of 50% to anyone going to a polling station, and free to some under served communities. Check with the company to find out which you qualify for.

Lime and Skip, services that specialize in scooters and bicycles for rent, have also offered free services in their areas to help get people mobile enough to vote. Even some of the public transportation in large cities such as Los Angeles and Indianapolis will be free on election day.

Whether you walk, bike, scoot or ride to the polls, your vote is important. Give your voice a chance to be heard by voting this election day, November 6th, 2018. Your vote is important, and it makes a difference both in your community and throughout the nation. Lend the country your voice this election day, and vote for what you believe in.

Find a polling place near you.

Introducing Climate Fest- a Nonstop, Distributed, Climate Fundraiser

Introducing Climate Fest, a multi-city music festival and live event series to fundraise for the fight against climate change. Climate Fest will be a massive, distributed, indefinitely running, and medium spanning event series that will host live events in cities across the United States- with the intent to expand internationally. Events will range from concerts, lectures, live podcasts, film screenings, food and drink events, comedy shows, and panels and will all act as distributed fundraisers for environmental nonprofits.

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According to a recent report by the United Nations, we only have 12 years to advert catastrophic effects caused by climate change. The report calls for urgent and unprecedented action on climate change, and states that the solutions that we need to pursue are affordable, but progress needs to begin now. In response to this, In Kind is launching the event series with the hopes that the franchise can act as a perpetual fundraiser for climate related solutions.

All gross profits of these events will go to action oriented environmental nonprofits. Specifically, we will be looking for environmental nonprofits that build renewable energy facilities (the Solar Foundation), actively pursue climate action (like cleanup efforts or climate relief), and/or legal funds (the Environmental Defense Fund). We are also open to suggestions from readers as to what charities to partner with, and are actively searching for partners.

The goal for this platform is to create enough events at a frequent enough rate, across the USA and eventually internationally, that we can create a meaningful impact that helps the fight against climate change. In addition to this, we believe that bringing together people who are concerned about climate change in a social setting can facilitate climate action beyond our organization.

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To help us get started, please consider backing our project on Kickstarter. We are set the level of fundraising to $1,000 which can fund a few events, and as a small place for us to get started. We have stretch goals of from $25,000 which will fund 6 guaranteed shows in 3 different cities, and launching with live-streaming to our social platforms, to $1 and $5 million dollars which two guaranteed events in a major US city every weekend and then eventually a small weekend music festival in addition. By leveling support like this, we can start small if we need to, or scale in a sustainable manner.

Festivals have long been a proven means for fundraising, with one of the most prominent examples being Live Aid, which has raised over $100 million since its inception. Since Climate Fest will be distributed over many cities, and will run indefinitely, we think that there is a massive potential to have a real impact on climate fundraising.

If you are a band, podcast, comedian, lecturer, performer or event promoter, etc. and would like to get involved, please email us at contact@inkind.life or reach out to us on our social channels.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to reach out to us at contact@inkind.life

To get updates, you can find us at www.climatefest.org or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Win Concert Tickets on Instagram's #iVoted Campaign

Tiny stickers and a sense of civic duty aren't the only thing you can get for turning up at the polling station for this year’s midterm elections. Now, thanks to a new campaign, “#iVoted” you also have the chance to win free tickets to some of your favorite bands.

Emily White, best known for a successful career in the music industry, has taken her talents and put a positive spin on them. Tired of seeing dismal turnouts at the polls in her native Wisconcin, she decided to do something about it, and took that idea national.

Her movement, #iVoted, teams up with bands such as Iceage, Superchunk and Iron & Wine to reward voters for turning up. To have a chance at winning free tickets, all you have to do is take a picture of yourself at participating polling stations on Instagram, and tag both the venue location and @ivotedconcerts to be entered to win.

When she originally started the campaign, she was surprised by the number of artists and their managers eager to help. So far over 78 different events in 32 different states are participating. This high amount of participation is even more surprising when you consider its advertising budget--#iVoted has been spread entirely by word of mouth.

The initiative has started in swing states, but the goal is to eventually have an event in all 50 states.

Emily White spoke about the event in an interview done with Billboard, "The music industry is my second family and I know how to activate them. I know people want to help and where it has converged and been really cool is we just confirmed Café Wha? in New York and that’s where Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix used to play. I got pretty emotional about that. Music and concerts and artists have always been such a force for change." 

She's not wrong. Music has had a profound impact on the world. In 1984, a music journalist named Bob Geld of created Live Aid, the first charity music concert. It raised 150,000,000 pounds—in one day. The money went to help fight world hunger, especially in Ethiopia where a famine was killing people.

Voting it is a vital part of of our lives, and is our most direct means of expressing our opinions to our government that an opportunity that too many people miss out on. Voting impacts the entire country, from who our president is, all the way down to whether or not we should have programs at a local library.

Without your vote, the country is missing an important part of a puzzle that is 327.4 million pieces. Without your opinion, that puzzle is incomplete. Your vote matters, and people like Emily White and the many artists who have put together events and offered up tickets to encourage you to vote are doing their best to encourage you to get out there and share your opinion. If you needed a reason to get to the polls this midterm, #iVoted could just be the incentive you need.

You can learn more about the campaign on their website.

Why We Need a $15 Minimum Wage

By Caroline Hsu

Though many of us don’t notice it, there’s a crisis brewing surrounding minimum wage and near-minimum wage jobs in the United States. Retail workers, food service employees, janitors, delivery drivers, and caregivers are among the lowest-paid employees in the United States, despite the fact that their work forms the backbone of modern American society. Because their jobs don’t necessarily require very much training or prior education, their labor is both undervalued and underpaid. The fight to raise the minimum wage is borne out of the idea that all employees should earn enough to support themselves and their dependents, regardless of their age, education level, or amount of job training. The work that minimum wage employees do ensures that society as we know it functions smoothly, and the least we can do as American citizens is to fight for business owners and corporations to compensate them fairly for their labor. 

In 2017, about 23.2 million people earned minimum or near-minimum wages, which fall anywhere between the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour and $10.10 an hour. Another 1.8 million people earned less than the federal minimum wage per hour. (This is possible for employees who earn tips, full-time students enrolled in work-study programs, and certain workers with disabilities.) The food service industry employs the most minimum wage, below-minimum wage, and near-minimum wage employees, but industries like sales, caregiving, administrative support, janitorial services, and transportation also employ hundreds of thousands of minimum wage employees. 

What are the overall demographics of minimum wage employees? About half of minimum wage employees in the US are aged 16 to 24. Over three-quarters of minimum wage employees are white. 20% have not finished high school. 36% have earned a high school diploma or GED. 37% have some form of college education, but have not earned a bachelor’s degree. From these statistics, we can surmise that the average minimum wage employee in the US is relatively young, white, and has not pursued any form of higher education after high school. 

The federal minimum wage in the United States has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. This current rate actually has less purchasing power than previous federal minimum wages. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage’s purchasing power was highest in 1968, when it was equivalent to about $8.68 per hour in 2016 dollars. Most states and territories have established legislation that sets their own minimum wages, which means that many minimum wage workers in the US are able to earn slightly more than the federal rate, ranging anywhere from $7.50 to $11.50 per hour. At first glance, this sounds like good news, but the actual state of minimum wage in the US is not quite that simple. Among countries with a comparable GDP per capita, the United States pays its minimum wage employees abnormally poorly. According to the Economist, if the federal minimum wage in the US were proportional to the federal minimum wages in similarly wealthy countries, all American minimum wage employees could expect to earn about $12 per hour. 

Even if the US were to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, which is highly unlikely due to current Republican control of Congress, those wages still would not be enough to allow many employees to support themselves and their families. MIT economics professor Amy Glasmeier runs a US living wage calculator, which estimates the minimum income that a family with two working parents and two children would need to survive in the US without relying on public assistance or holding multiple jobs. This calculation takes into account housing, food, medical care, childcare, and transportation. As of 2015, the living wage in the United States for a family of four is $15.12 per hour, which is significantly higher than even the most generous of state minimum wages. In order for a single parent with two children working a federal minimum wage job to survive without public assistance, they would have to work 139 hours per week. Just for comparison, the standard for full-time employment in the United States is 40 hours per week. 

Because many hourly-wage jobs just don’t pay enough to support families, a significant number of hourly employees are forced to take on multiple jobs. In September of 2018, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that approximately 7.7 million workers held multiple jobs, an alarmingly high rate that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s. However, the actual number of multiple job-holders is likely even higher than the statistics reported by the Department of Labor. Though they may not realize it, wage or salary employees who also run a part-time, self-employed business also count as multiple job holders. An indeterminate number of multiple job holders may be withholding that information from the federal government so that their secondary income remains untaxed. 

Clearly, the state of the American minimum wage is so dire that many hourly employees are forced to rely on public assistance or additional jobs just to make ends meet. However, there is progress being made on state, local, and corporate levels. In early 2018, 18 different states began to increase minimum wage rates by about $1 per hour, including Maine, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington state. Additionally, the state of California and New York City have both announced that they will be raising their minimum wages to $15 over the next 5 years. Finally, companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Target have recently announced increases in their corporate minimum wage regulations for part-time, full-time, and seasonal employees. Important progress is definitely being made in the fight for a higher minimum wage on both the political and corporate level, but many skeptics still oppose the raising of wage floors. 

Although the debate surrounding minimum wage is incredibly multifaceted, with factors including national employment rates, commodity prices, economic vitality, inflation, racial and gender equality, and tax rates, the heart of the argument for a higher minimum wage is empathy. There is an intense stigma against minimum wage jobs and the people who work them. For many people, entry-level, minimum wage jobs are generally considered to have little societal value. Minimum wage jobs are often characterized as temporary summer work for young high school or college students looking to earn a little spending money. Otherwise, they’re considered to be bottom-of-the-barrel employment for the lazy, unintelligent, and unmotivated. These generalizations do a disservice to the vast majority of minimum wage employees, who are just as diligent and hardworking as any salary-earner. 

Anyone who has ever worked a minimum wage job, even temporarily, can tell you that the daily demands of the food service, retail, caregiving, janitorial, and transportation industries are just as demanding, if not more taxing, than a 9-to-5 office job. Minimum wage employees are often asked to work 6 to 14-hour shifts every day of the week, with little or no opportunities for a break. For the duration of their shifts, cashiers, food service workers, and retail associates are frequently forbidden from sitting down, which means that they must remain on their feet for hours on end. Minimum wage workers endure verbal abuse and harassment from entitled customers, physically uncomfortable working environments with insufficient heating or air conditioning, and exposure to unclean or unsanitary substances on a day-to-day basis. Their work is the foundation for the fast food industry, the movie business, the brick-and-mortar retail industry. Minimum wage workers clean up after our messes, deliver our packages, care for our children and elders, and prepare our food. And yet, despite the fact these jobs form the backbone of our society, the people who hold them are not even paid a living wage.  

If you’re interested in joining the fight for a $15 minimum wage, even if you’re not a minimum wage employee yourself, there are several ways you can get involved. First, do your research into political candidates at the local, state, and federal levels who support increasing the minimum wage. If you’re able, donate or volunteer for their campaigns. At the very least, do your civic duty and vote! Additionally, try to support small businesses and larger companies that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to paying their employees fairly. Look into the wage policies of the businesses you frequent. If possible, try to support as many businesses that pay a living wage as you can. Although these steps might seem small and ineffectual, they can make a huge difference in convincing corporations and legislators to start paying hourly employees fairly!

Diversity Becomes Her: The 2018 Midterm Candidates Bring Change

The 2018 midterm elections have already set a record number of female candidates, a result of women being driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and within the context of the #MeToo movement whose roots took hold a little less than a year ago. As voters move to the polls on November 6 haunted by the recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the narrow confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, more women stand to be elected in 2018 than in 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” where an unprecedented number of women were elected to Congress, buoyed by women energized to vote after witnessing Anita Hill’s testimony accusing Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. With a record-breaking 255 women contending for congressional seats as major party candidates, this year’s elections may see up to 40 new women entering the House -- nearly double the record set in 1992. This year’s midterm elections are not only historical in terms of the number of female candidates running, but also in terms of the diversity of the candidates, with the potential for Congress in 2019 to break diversity records. At a time when civil rights are threatened and racism pervades society under the Trump administration and as the #MeToo movement fosters an environment of supporting and empowering women, these trailblazing candidates of the midterm elections represent progress by providing an important voice for women and minorities at a particularly fraught period. Ultimately, through the diverse female candidates of the 2018 midterm elections, there is hope for those who have long been forced to stay silent to finally have a voice.

Already this year, certain history-making candidates are nearly guaranteed election after having won their primaries, now running unopposed in the midterms. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman from Michigan, is set to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She will be filling the vacancy left by John Conyers, the longest-serving Democratic House representative, who, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. In a stunning upset victory, political superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, toppled Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and now stands to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley, after also beating 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in another upset primary, will be the first African American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Other noteworthy candidates include Sharice Davids, who, if elected, could become the first Native American woman elected to Congress as well as the the first LGBTQ representative for Kansas; Jahana Hayes, the recipient of the 2016 Teacher of the Year award who, if elected, will become the first black woman in Congress from Connecticut, and who is also running to fill the seat of Rep. Elizabeth Esty who decided not to seek re-election after it was revealed that she protected an abusive male staff member; and Lauren Underwood, who, at 31 years old, is the youngest black woman running for Congress, and, if she wins, will be the first African American as well as the first woman to represent her district. 

In terms of gubernatorial elections, a record number of female candidates from a major party was set this year, with twelve new women running for governor alongside four incumbents who are up for re-election, and with four out of eight of the Democratic candidates being women of color. As the highest executive office in the country after the presidency, the possibility of women of color filling the seat of governorship is important not only symbolically, but also in terms of the experiences they would bring to the table as members of marginalized parts of society, as well as their policies which would directly and specifically benefit women and minorities.

In Georgia, a state where all previous governors have been white men, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams has already made history by being the first African American woman to run for governor. With a law degree from Yale, a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as having served as the minority leader of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly between 2011 and 2017, Abrams’ platform includes criminal justice reform, protection of abortion rights, and overcoming voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of minorities. The potential election of Abrams would be particularly symbolic in the Republican-leaning deep south state whose capital is known as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The gubernatorial race in Texas has made history through Lupe Valdez, the first openly gay Latina candidate of a major party to run for governor of Texas. Valdez broke down barriers in 2004 when she was elected as sheriff of Dallas, becoming the country’s first openly gay Latina sheriff, and was subsequently re-elected three times before entering the race for governor. Open about her experiences overcoming discrimination as a lesbian and a woman of color, Valdez runs on a platform that seeks to protect immigrant and LGBTQ communities in a state where immigration and border security have been top concerns among voters and where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still legal.

In Vermont, Christine Hallquist is the country’s first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate of a major party. Formerly the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, Hallquist was driven to run for office after the election of Donald Trump and the “resurgence of racism and white supremacy.” Hallquist’s platform plans to increase supplies of renewable energy and tackle climate change as well as civil rights issues.

The 2018 midterm elections provide an opportunity to confront the ills of society that have crawled out of the woodwork under the Trump administration. As sexual aggressors are still being put in positions of power, as white supremacy is becoming normalized, and as the small gains in LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back, it is important now more than ever to elect candidates that will best protect and advance civil rights, justice, and equality. The number of diverse female candidates who stand to be elected in November means there will be a better chance to address the issues and concerns faced by women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community; there will be a better chance of breaking down barriers enforced and perpetuated by the Washington political elite; and there will be a better chance of setting the stage to create positive and lasting change in the country. Already, some of the midterm candidates are setting precedents by simply running for office, normalizing for the future what is considered to be novel in the present, laboriously and courageously paving the path to greater tolerance and acceptance, with liberty and justice for all.

Have your say: vote in the midterm elections on November 6.

The History and Importance of National Coming Out Day

October 11th, 2018, will mark the 30th Anniversary of National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day originated when some members of the LGBTQIA+ community decided to respond to the challenges of the time. Its purpose was to help heterosexual people realize that they likely knew someone who was gay or lesbian, as well as to instill pride in the gay and lesbian communities. It brought together many things that, in the 1980’s, desperately needed to be addressed: personal acceptance, public awareness, positive mental and physical health, kinship, and unity.

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In modern times, National Coming Out Day (NCOD), is a day of both self-reflection and festivities. It’s an opportunity for people who have already come out tell their stories, for people who have been wanting to come out to take that first difficult step, and for celebrating how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come.

Thanks in part to the hard work of Jean O’Leary and Robert Eichberg, NCOD is considered by some to be almost unnecessary. So many are out and proud, getting married, marching in pride parades, that it can seem like overkill to have a day dedicated to coming out. But acknowledging the obstacles the community has overcome and honoring those who faced seemingly insurmountable odds, is also an essential part of National Coming Out Day. Being aware of our history and recognizing the challenges that were overcome, helps ensure that we do not take equal rights for granted.

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History

The 80’s were a particularly challenging time, with anti-gay legislation being passed all over the country, and HIV/AIDS escalating from a few isolated cases within the gay and needle-using population, to a pandemic affecting the entire world. People who came out in the 80’s were likely to lose their jobs, their homes, their friends, and their family. A Gallup poll in 1988 showed that 57% of Americans thought “gay or lesbian relationships between consenting adults should be illegal.” During this time, there was a persistent belief that HIV/AIDS was the fault of gay men. Early in the findings of the disease, the media called it GRID: gay-related immune deficiency. Despite scientists establishing early on that the disease was not limited to the gay population, that belief that had already cemented itself in the public consciousness.

Many citizens took their lead from then-President Ronald Regan, who chose to remain silent on the HIV/AIDS crisis. While the medical community was aware of the disease in 1981, it would take Reagan until 1985 to even speak the words “HIV” and “AIDS” in a public setting. Famously, he and his wife Nancy shunned their longtime friend, the beloved celebrity actor Rock Hudson, when he was simultaneously outed and dying from AIDS.

Founders

Jean O’Leary wisely stated, “Our invisibility is the essence of our oppression. And until we eliminate that invisibility, people are going to be able to perpetuate the lies and myths about gay people.” Helping the straight population recognize that gays and lesbians were also relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, musicians, actors, actresses, and celebrities, reduced the ignorance and “fear of the other” that was so prevalent in the during this time.

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Within the community, being treated with contempt, unsurprisingly resulted in anger. But O’Leary and Eichberg believed that broadcasting a message of fury and frustration, while gratifying in the short-term, would not be the most effective way to gain straight allies. And so they decided to have a day of ending the silence, while celebrating nontraditional sexual identities. They were confident that if your average heterosexual person witnessed people they knew declaring, “I am a lesbian” or “I am gay,” that they would stop fearing the movement and start seeing how it affected them on a more personal level. Polls conducted since have borne this out, and it’s part of the reason why National Coming Out Day celebrations are still popular.

A leader of the LGBTQIA+ movement, Jean O’Leary was frequently in the public eye. She came out of the closet in her early 20’s and then founded the Lesbian Feminist Liberation organization. It was one of the first organizations to focus on intersectionality between lesbians and feminists. She spent 8 years as an executive member of the Democratic National Committee. O’Leary was also an executive member of the National Gay Task Force (known today as the National LGBTQ Task Force), a nonprofit advocacy group which focuses on advancing equality for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States. During the time that she and Eichberg were working on National Coming Out Day, she was also heavily involved in the work of the National Gay Rights Advocates, a law firm which sought to advance the goals and needs of the gay and lesbian communities.

Robert Eichberg was a psychologist and a writer, who founded The Experience, a course in coming out to friends and family. He also established a political action committee which worked towards lesbian and gay equality. He once stated, “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” His book, Coming Out: An Act of Love, was considered a vital resource in the 90’s, for both LGBTQIA+ people and their straight allies. Tragically, at the age of 50, AIDS claimed his life.

Science has confirmed what O’Leary and Eichberg long believed. The ability to own your sexual identity without criticism or bullying by those around you, supports positive mental health. Taking pride in being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is a useful (if not always possible) step for those wishing to live authentically.

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Today

While the LGBTQIA+ population is still not universally accepted in the United States, we have overcome much of the mistreatment that characterized the last century. Marriage is now federally legal. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no longer the military’s policy. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act allows the Department of Justice to give aid to states in cases of hate crimes.

We have out and proud politicians, athletes, musicians, ministers, artists, actors, actresses, and military personnel.

Recently, however, with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and a majority- republican congress, there have been setbacks. Trump has fought hard to stop transgendered people from serving in the military, and while his efforts have been consistently shot down by the federal courts, he continues to attack. Earlier this year he ended protections for transgender criminals, and now we have trans women being housed with men and trans men being housed with women. Only a week ago, the State Department stopped granting visas to the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and UN employees’, unless they are legally married in their home country — regardless of whether or not that country allows same-sex marriage.

While all of this can be discouraging, it is also important to remember how far we have come. From the horrors of the concentration camps, to the Stonewall Riots, from HIV/AIDS to hate crimes, we have endured much. Joan O’Leary and Robert Eichberg faced incredible odds but their hard work and dedication brought us to the point where we can start to pose the question: Do We Still Need NCOD? All of those who have come out of the closet before us, all of those who will come out, and all of our allies, are brave and dedicated people. The measures of equality that we have now were brought about through activism and political dissent, and we must continue to persevere. One step you can take today is to make sure you are registered to vote. Another way to effect change is by joining up with LGBTQIA+ organizations — online or in person. If you are short on time, a monetary donation to the Human Rights CoalitionPFLAGthe Gay-Straight Alliance, or O’Leary’s organization — the National LGBTQ Task Force, are all possibilities.

If you want to participate in National Coming Out Day on Thursday, there is a list below of free events happening in major metropolitan areas. If you aren’t able to attend one of these, letting the people in your life know that you are LGBTQIA+ or an ally, is just as powerful*.

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New York City:

Los Angeles:

Chicago:

Washington DC:

Philadelphia:

Phoenix:

San Antonio:

“Openness may not eliminate prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”

– Jason Collins, First Openly Gay Player in American Sports


*Please do not come out if it could be dangerous for you. No one is obligated to come out, and you know best what the consequences will be if and when you do. Remember, you can come out anytime. If that means this Thursday, ten years from now, or never, it is your decision to make. National Coming Out Day is there to give you an opportunity, not to shame you into doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re feeling unsure, please see these resources from the Human Rights Campaign:

How the Environment Influences Yeisy Rodriguez's Art

A creative household 

Yeisy Rodriguez is probably one of the most socially conscious 20-year-olds you’ll ever meet. She’s educated on subjects such as climate change and animal cruelty and hopes to teach others about their lasting effects on the environment. But her teaching methods don’t involve lectures or waxing poetic on YouTube videos. No, her methods are much more creative. 

  Blackfish  by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Blackfish by Yeisy Rodriguez is a three-color screen print that depicts an orca in a plastic bag, comparing it to goldfish given as prizes at fairs.

Yeisy was born in Miami to Cuban parents who moved to Florida in 1995 to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. Her parents had family in the U.S., which made the transition easier but they still had to adjust to speaking English and living in an unfamiliar country. 

Yeisy’s parents encouraged her love for the arts and animals. The Rodriguez family went beyond the “must love dogs” mantra as pets also included birds, cats, dogs, hamsters and bunnies. When she was seven years, Yeisy also started discovering her inner artist by attending art and painting classes. 

At 14 she began to question what she wanted to pursue as a career, but as she delved more into her art, which she says started out as a hobby, she realized that art had become her calling.

“I didn’t think I would do it as a career,” she says. “When I went to college I had to choose a major and I chose art. It was easy because I would think of all the other things I could major in and none of them felt right.” But despite the easy choice, Yeisy still had her doubts because she knew little about the art world and had no idea where to draw her inspiration. 

Also at 14, Yeisy, like most girls that age, started wearing makeup. But unlike a typical teenager, questions would later surface about how her makeup products were being made. 

“I realized some makeup was not cruelty-free about two years into wearing makeup, and it was definitely a bit overwhelming and frustrating at times,” she says. “In some cases, finding replacements for certain items that had become staples in my routine was difficult but I was determined to only support cruelty-free brands.” 

Picture-perfect prevention 

Yeisy’s epiphany spurred her to research countless beauty companies and the ways to prevent cosmetics testing on animals. But it also urged her to create art that she hoped would raise awareness and most importantly educate people on some of these issues. 

  99°, 99%  by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

99°, 99% by Yeisy Rodriguez is a five-color screen print, depicting sea turtle populations in the warmer, northern beaches, with only one male turtle in the center, surrounded by 99 female turtles.

“People aren’t choosing to be ignorant – they just don’t research,” she says. “I like to make that information more accessible. Pictures and visuals are easier for people to grasp and make more of a statement.”

Yeisy also likes incorporating numbers into her work and believes that when statistical information is presented visually, it can be “really impactful.” For example, her digital piece titled And then there were two is based off an article she saw in October 2017 that detailed how, because of a “record amount of summer sea ice and an unprecedented rainy episode,” all but two chicks of a colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins died of starvation in Antarctica. 

Another piece titled 99°, 99% also shows how rising temperatures are causing sea turtles to turn female. And while this may not seem like a big deal, scientists have started to question how the sea turtle population will sustain itself when, years from now, there’s a chance there will be no more males reaching adulthood. 

Stories such as these are a huge influence in her work, which features 2D and sculpture pieces, acrylic, water color, ink, graphite, prints, gouache and oil painting, which she says is her favorite medium to work with because she’s most “familiar” with it. 

“Climate change influences a lot of my work,” she says. “It impacts the penguins, the turtles – it’s very present.” 

According to the New York Times, scientists believe most and probably all of global warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases and if emissions continue to rise, warming could exceed eight degrees Fahrenheit, which would “transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population…and precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history.”

It’s a startling thought but one Yeisy hopes to bring attention to – even if it’s not overnight. “When people look at my work, I hope people learn something,” Yeisy says. “But I really hope it changes the way they do things. If at least one person can get that out of a piece I make, then I’m happy.”

An artist’s journey 

Yeisy’s art didn’t always have the same powerful message it does now. In fact, when she was entering college, she applied for the BFA program and didn’t get in because her work didn’t have an overall message. She spent the summer building her portfolio in the hopes of applying again but never did because she no longer felt like she needed the program to confirm that she was a great artist. 

“My work spoke for itself,” she says. “It’s become more specific and affective. I feel better putting more thought into it, which means the audience will put more thought into it.” 

Learning more about a particular subject has also allowed her to become more confident in her work and have a newfound appreciation for the craft. 

“I like that it’s [art] is an unique career. It’s something that people can look at and admire – like these animals,” she says. “I love the freedom of it and the ability to do what you want and have a voice.” 

Yeisy believes art’s role in society goes far beyond visual aesthetic. Artists, like any revolutionary, have a duty to speak to the world’s injustices – whether political, environmental or racial. 

“In the 20th century, a lot of Cuban artists made art about the government,” she says. “The same thing can be seen in Russia, Italy and other countries because art has always been used to spread a message and inform people.”

And while she realizes that a career as an artist may not be the most stable profession, for her, art isn’t about making money but rather making work that’s true to what she stands for. 

As for how she plans to do that, Yeisy, who graduated from Florida State University in May, wants to one day open her own art shop and have a portion of every sale go to a charity or organization that helps the environment or animals. Until then, she’s planning her next big art project (she would love to paint a mural for an organization that supports animals) and balancing working as a graphic designer and her art. 

 Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer   and her art.

Yeisy graduated in May from Florida State University and is balancing working as a graphic designer and her art.

It would seem like she has it all figured out but her assuredness didn’t come overnight. Her work comes from “finding my own way” and educating herself on the subjects that matter to her. But she wants people to know, that even if you’re not an artist or an activist, it’s okay. 

“It’s all about your actions,” she says. “If you’re in a creative field, it may be easier to express but making a difference starts with a small change in your life. You can volunteer or just encourage others to inform themselves so that they, in turn, can inform someone else. Life is chain reaction – if one person does something good, then maybe others will be inspired too.” 

For more information on Yeisy and her artwork, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

The Case for Reforming Money Bail: Race and Class Bias Persist

The racial and class stratification of this country and how judges allow personal bias to effect decision-making is pervasive, and money bail is no different. 

In 2017, the country’s leading civil rights organization the American Civil Liberties Union started a multi-year campaign to reform the justice system from sentencing and incarceration rates down to the unequal applications of cash bail. 

 Source:  ACLU

Source: ACLU

The campaign cites wealth and racial disparities as reasoning for discontinuing money bail, which continues to be an exclusive way for people of relative wealth to cheat the criminal justice system. Black and brown people are doubly attacked by this egregious system because they are both disproportionately poor and face a social paradigm that collectively associates negative ideas with who they are as individuals.  

In a 2018 Harvard analysis of bail decisions in Miami and Philadelphia, researchers found several pieces of evidence that suggested discrimination on behest of black defendants. This evidence is most visible in part-time and inexperienced judges, both black and white, mostly due to an unfounded association of black defendants with high-risk releases. 

Experienced judges are less likely to stereotype black defendants, but the unequal treatment persists when compared to white defendants of similar status and charge. The implications of the study suggest that on-the-job training could have a pivotal role in decreasing these black and white disparities in pretrial detentions, but that only remedies a portion of the problem.

Stereotyping and the association of black people with crime, danger and aggression has been proliferated through the ethos of this country. This bias seeps into every institution. The criminal justice system is just the most materially consequential because a judge’s discretion can have far-reaching impact. 

Aside from racial inequalities, money bail also exacerbates a broken class system that finds economically disadvantaged people, regardless of race, at the crosshairs of a system already stacked against them. 

 Source:  Twitter

Source: Twitter

The constitution guarantees equal access to justice, yet money bail bellies this founding principle by eschewing equality in favor of profit. The Prison Policy institute estimates that about 70 percent of jailed people have not been convicted. Their only crime? They can’t afford bail.

Poor people do not have equal access to justice and freedom in the same ways that their wealthier counterparts do. This is further illustrated by the correlation found between pretrial detention and conviction rates in a 2016 study conducted by Yale researchers.

People who are detained pretrial in local and county jails are more likely to be strapped down into a plea bargain and face conviction whereas their monetarily privileged counterparts can afford attorneys to fight their charges. 

This is a gross perversion of the judicial system. Money bail was originally set up as a surety measure, but now it does not access whether a person’s release is risky. It only accesses a person’s ability to fund a bail bondsman. For those who can’t, the trauma and criminogenic effects of detention takes their toll.

One needs to look no further than the Kalief Browder case. In 2010, at the age of 16, Browder was detained by police officers after being accused of stealing a backpack. He would later be indicted and charged by a grand jury despite a substantial lack of evidence. 

Since his family lacked the proper funds to post his $3,000 bail, Browder was booked in Rikers Island where he would stay for three years, the bulk of which was spent in solitary confinement, despite being legally innocent. His case was never, officially, heard by a judge as the prosecution continued to defer the trial until their main witness, a Mexican immigrant, returned to his home country. Browder’s case was dropped in 2013.

 Source:  ACLU

Source: ACLU

After two years of freedom, Browder committed suicide outside his mother’s house. He cited his jail time as a trauma he could not overcome; writing extensively about the abuse he suffered at the hands of other inmates and correctional officers. 

The American criminal justice system currently detains about 536,000 people in local jails who have yet to be convicted of a crime. Much like Browder, these people are thrown into a traumatic environment that can have mental and emotional effects that persist long after their release. America’s legally innocent detainees are more than the entire prison population of every developed nation save for China, Brazil and Russia. 

Unlawful pretrial detentions even cost legally innocent people their lives. An investigation by The Huffington Post reviewed every city and local jail in the country and found that the overwhelming majority of jail deaths were people who were legally innocent. People who stayed incarcerated simply because they didn’t have the funds to post bail for offenses they were not even convicted of. 

A justice system that punishes a benighted class is not serving justice, its promulgating inequity.  Effectively, considering people too poor for freedom. A society that makes freedom not only conditional but contingent upon personal wealth denies equal protection to a large subsect of the population who do not enjoy the luxury of disposable income. 

The median bail amount levied at a felony defendant is approximately $10,000, according to a Council of Economic Advisers brief. Meanwhile, a survey by Bankrate finds that 57 percent of Americans do not even have enough money to cover an unexpected $500 expense. Money bail serves as a penalty for being poor.  

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Now, it’s imperative that the discussion not only focuses on the problems of money bail but also the solutions that can be implemented to reform the system. Approaches based on something other than a person’s ability to pay the price for freedom are already in practice in certain jurisdictions. 

Currently, four states have banned for-profit bail: Kentucky, Oregon, Wisconsin and Illinois. These states access pretrial release based on risk and the assuredness of greater public safety based on the specifics of the jurisdiction and the defendant. After the assessment is complete, a release recommendation is suggested, and a multitude of options are presented. 

For example, one county in Oregon, Multnomah County, has four release options that can be recommended after risk is properly assessed. If risk is considered excessively low a person is released on their own recognizance with a promise to return to court later. For those with moderate risk, they are referred to a Pretrial Supervision Program that supervises potential defendants on a case-by-case basis. People with high risk who are referred to a Close Street Supervision program. All people, from low to high risk, are monitored through a combination of home and work visits and phone contact. 

Evidence suggests this system works. The state of Kentucky utilizes a similar system to Multnomah County, and the results have been promising. Court appearance rates rose from 89 percent to 90 percent after Kentucky did away with for-profit money bail; rates of re-arrest also decreased by a percentage point. While this is not a great benefit, it illustrates that money bail is not needed to maintain a system of responsibility and surety. In fact, it might have a small detrimental effect on both. 

The ACLU’s Smart Justice campaign is expanding its bail reform and abolition efforts on both a federal and state level. The company’s integrated campaign effort includes litigation procedures, legislative advocacy and communication measures. The nonprofit hopes highlighting these injustices and the multinational corporations that profit at the expense of a person’s freedom will help reverse the ubiquity of money bail.

This country has long steered away from this idyllic view of being the city atop a hill for other societies to emulate. No, instead America has become that city’s duplicitous neighbor. One who forgoes the material well-being of a body politic to prioritize the profit margins of industry. In the words of Donald Glover, “this is America.” And we’d be wise to not let this injustice system catch us slipping: lest we be detained unlawfully. 

You can learn more or donate to the ACLU on their website

Amazon's Founder Announces New $2 Billion Charity Fund

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has announced the creation of a new philanthropic fund. The Day One Fund, which got its name from Jeff Bezos treating every day like it is 'Day One' of running Amazon, will focus on two separate areas. One portion of the fund will go to helping homeless families, and the other to preschool education for underprivileged children.

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The funds are in response to criticism from people who feel that the richest man on Earth should put some of his billions toward helping others. Although Jeff Bezos has donated money to charity before, his philanthropic efforts had fallen short of others such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. Jeff Bezos listened to these critics, and asked for suggestions on what direction to go with his money from followers on Twitter. In June, he announced that he'd made a decision, and would reveal that choice by the end of summer. He fulfilled that promise, by revealing the Day One fund on September 13th.

The fund will be launched with 2 billion dollars, divided between two areas. The first part of the fund, called the Day 1 Family Fund, will focus on providing money to charities that assist the homeless. This includes annual leadership awards for charities that go above and beyond to make a change in the world, such as the shelter, “Mary's Place” in Seattle, who made it their goal to ensure no child sleeps outside. Bezos mentions that Mary's Place was the inspiration for this fund in his Twitter announcement.

The other half of the fund, known as the Day 1 Academy fund, will be directed toward creating Montessori style preschools in underprivileged areas, with full ride scholarships available. Montessori education allows learning through guided play, and uses the child's own interest to help develop their mind. It is one of the biggest gifts to ever be given to preschools.

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It isn't yet known how far along the Day One Fund is towards completion, or when the fund will be officially launched. 

This announcement comes with mixed reactions from the public. While some people praise him for his philanthropic effort, others criticize him because he has given so little compared to his huge fortune. According to David Callahan, the founder of a website called Inside Philanthropy, focusing on philanthropic efforts later in life is fairly normal.

"With big fortunes like that, the only thing you can really do is give it away -- unless you want the government to take half of it through estate tax,” Callahan stated recently.

This statement has been proven true with the very same people Bezos is being compared against. Bill and Melinda Gates did not focus on their charity until after they had stepped away from the business, and many others did not begin donating until much later in life. At 54, Bezos is just on time to join the mega givers, and is a welcome first step in his philanthropic efforts.

California Set to Become 100 Percent Carbon Neutral

California has made history with S.B. 100, a bill that requires all retail energy to come from renewable resources by 2045. This bill will make California only the second state to do so, but as as the fifth largest economy in the world and the United States’ most populous state, it is a landmark step in the fight against climate change.

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While over 70% of Californians agree with the bill, it came with some push back from utility companies and energy intensive industries such as agriculture. Those who were against the bill cited concerns about job loss during the transition, and what renewable energy may hold for big business.

Despite these concerns, S.B. 100 passed by a small majority, 44-33 in favor of the bill. Right now California gets about a third of its energy from renewable resources. This includes solar and wind powered installations as well as geothermal generation sites. California also generates about 9% of its energy from nuclear power plants, which is a somewhat debated source of clean energy. About half of its energy comes from natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, but is actually potentially more damaging to the environment due to the amount of methane that natural gas emits.

Governor Brown signed SB 100 into law just before the Global Climate Action Summit. The bill helped bring concrete action to the climate movement, and is exactly what needs to be done in order to stop greenhouse gases from warming our planet even more. At the same time he also issued executive order B-55-18, calling for California to become completely carbon neutral over the same period of time.

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The executive order isn't law, but it is a strong statement confirming California’s commitment to climate action. These moves come in stark contrast to the White House, which has dismissed climate change and sought to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Through this bill and the executive order, California will seek to become completely carbon neutral, which is in line with the ambitions of the Paris Climate Accord.

These actions are more possible than claiming that California will be a zero carbon state. Carbon neutral means that carbon offsets, such as putting money into forest land or companies that actively reduce the carbon emissions available, are an option for businesses and individuals. This makes the executive order a lot more likely to be successful, and legitimizes the efforts of any states that would like to follow.

“This bill and the executive order put California on a path to meet the goals of Paris and beyond. It will not be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done,” Jerry Brown said at the signing.

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It's not yet clear how the bill will be put into action. While SB 100 gives lawmakers and businesses a very clear direction to go in, it doesn't provide any instructions on how to get there. California already has several similar bills in place, all of which are less ambitious, but many of them aren't on track to complete on time. 

Critics are concerned that the bill will harm Californians and exists only to please politicians. The bill has been stalled over the last 2 years over concerns of the cost and feasibility of putting an ambitious plan such as this one into action. 

California has long been a pioneer in forward thinking laws, and the success or failure of this bill will determine whether other states will follow. If it succeeds, it will show that even a large economy such as California can still be successful without harming the planet. It's a worthwhile goal, and one that can not only have a positive local impact for Californians but set a progressive prescient for climate action.

How to Help the Victims of Hurricane Florence

The hurricane season of 2018 has officially started. As Hurricane Florence strengthens and begins to make landfall on the east coast of the United States, one million people have been warned to evacuate their homes and seek safety. The Category 4 hurricane is expected to affect 300 miles of coastline, has caused four states to declare states of emergency, and is expected to last from Friday into Monday.

According to analytics firm CoreLogic, Hurricane Florence could cause $170 billion in damages for the East Coast and damage 759,000 homes and businesses. To put that into context, last year’s Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damages and crippled Houston and the other parts of Texas that it reached.

FEMA and other government agencies are preparing to respond to the disaster, but as with all national tragedies, there are numerous nonprofits and support groups that are readying themselves to support the communities that are affected by Hurricane Florence.

To assist those who want to donate or support the Hurricane Florence relief effort, Charity Navigator has compiled a list of organizations to give to. Below is a list of a few, but to find the full group of listings, click through to Charity Navigator’s website.

Global Giving

Global Giving has set up a dedicated Hurricane Florence fund. They are a nonprofit that connects donors with grassroots projects around the world.

Donate Here

Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina is a food bank that serves the community that will be directly impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Donate Here

Harvest Hope Food Bank

Harvest Hope Food Bank is another food bank that directly serves a community that will be impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Donate Here

Charleston Animal Society

Charleston Animal Society is a no kill shelter that houses and rehabilitates animals, they are located directly in Hurricane Florence’s path.

Donate Here

A Child of 9/11 and the Father She Never Knew

Julia Welty was one month old when her father was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She never knew him but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t tried to honor his memory since that tragic day 17 years ago. “I think about it every day,” the senior at Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, New York says. “But it has made me think about how I can help people. I want to be somebody and do something I love.”

Timothy was a firefighter with squad 288 in Queens.

Timothy was active and enjoyed water skiing and hockey.

Julia’s father, Timothy Matthew Welty, was one of the 2,996 people who died on 9/11. A firefighter with squad 288 in Queens, Timothy was only 34 when he died, leaving behind his widow, Delia, his mother, Adele, his father, William (Bill), three siblings and his two young children, Julia and Jake who was three years old at the time.

Jake may have faint memories of his father whereas Julia relies on other people’s recollections. From their stories and experiences, she knows he was a good man. “He always wanted to help people,” she says. “He loved his family and wanted to save people.”

Julia says on the day of the attacks her dad was supposed to pick her brother up from school. And even though Julia and her family’s lives would change forever when her dad decided to go help, she’s still proud of him. “If he were here, I would tell him I’m proud of him,” she says. “It changed my life, but I understand why he made the choice he did.”

As Julia understands it, her dad didn’t necessarily plan on becoming a firefighter, but it was a noble profession that allowed him to help others, which is what he always wanted to do.

Timothy Welty pictured with his son Jake (top right and second left) and Julia and Jake (second right).

Timothy, who had always been extremely athletic, became a firefighter in his late 20s. He loved sports, especially water skiing and hockey, and although Julia didn’t inherit her father’s athleticism, when she watches a hockey game, she always thinks of her dad. He was also very smart, which was apparent to family members at a young age.

According to the New York Times, when Timothy was 15, he bought a junk car and fixed the brakes by taking them apart and putting them back together. “I go into the garage and he’s got the car up on jacks and all the pieces lying around,” his father says. “He had a kind of intelligence that I don’t have.”

And his widow, Delia, says that he was a philosopher who was always looking at things from a different perspective — especially when it came to couples having disagreements. “We’d hear the guy’s side but not the girl’s and I’d form an opinion,’’ she says. “Tim would always say, ‘Well, wait, we should hear the other side.’ He taught me to see everything from a different angle.”

As I talk to Julia on the eve before her last first day of high school, she tells me there are “so many more things” that remind her of him. “My brother and I look just like him,” she says. “We have the same smile.” But even aside from her physical features, she says just thinking about what he would say or do has also become a huge part of her decision making, especially now as she thinks about college and her future, because he would always do the right thing.

“Every day I think about what I can do to make him proud of me,” she says. “I know I’m not perfect but going into senior year, I’m focused on what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to be in an environment where I’m not happy, so I know that whatever I do, I want to make him proud.”

Julia and her mother, Delia, in August 2017.

Julia is still narrowing down her university options. She’s looking at Delaware, Maryland, Boston University, Syracuse and Penn State as possible colleges.

While she doesn’t know right now what school colors she will be wearing this time next year, she knows she wants to be a criminal psychologist so she can look at people’s lives before they commit a crime — a dream that she says was “definitely” impacted by her dad’s death in 9/11.

The biggest impact of growing up without her biological father is the compassion she feels for others — part of this stemming from her time spent at America’s Camp, a camp for children who lost a parent or sibling on 9/11. Julia attended the camp from ages seven to 12. “There were other kids there who were going through the same pain,” she says. “It was a large support group and I still have strong relationships from my time there.”

Julia and her family, which now includes a stepdad and a little brother from her mom’s second marriage, also have a strong relationship with other members of her dad’s firehouse. Every year, for the anniversary of 9/11, they visit the Queens firehouse with two or three other families and share stories and catch up.

Julia and her boyfriend Colin Kelley in June of this year.

These stories have helped Julia fill in the gaps, create her own memories and develop her own opinions. In the context of today’s political landscape, Julia defines patriotism as an inclusionary tasks and mission. “Patriotism is wanting to keep people safe — not just your country or your family but everyone.”

Julia misses her father, but realizes the loss brings a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for her family — never taking the people she loves for granted. “I make sure my family knows I love them,” she says. “People have regrets, that’s not to say I don’t have any, but you never know the last time you may see someone.”

Most importantly, Julia tries not to focus on the negative of a life gone too soon from an event that changed the course of history and changed countless lives, like Julia’s personally. “I think about how different my life would have been if he didn’t die. I wouldn’t have my little brother,” she says. “I think about the good things that came out of it. He did what he thought he had to do and people’s lives were saved.”

Julia knows she wouldn’t be where she is today if things had gone differently. “Anger and sadness come from feelings of abandonment. He wasn’t on duty so it didn’t have to happen but it’s okay because everything happens for a reason,” she says. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I like who I am.”

And Julia thinks her dad would too. “If he were here, he would tell me he’s proud of me and don’t be afraid to leave home and go to school,” she says. “He would tell me to embrace new things and new opportunities that are coming. Do what I love and push through the challenges. He would tell me to make myself happy, but make other people happy too.”

All photos courtesy of Julia Welty. 

To read more from Chloe Castleberry, you can follow her on Twitter.

How $20 Can Take a Ton of Carbon Out of the Atmosphere

If you’re passionate about the environment and concerned about the effects of climate change, you have probably heard the term “Carbon Offsets” used by many businesses when describing their sustainability projects. Lyft recently committed to purchasing enough of them to cover all of their rides’ emissions, and many other large companies such as General Motors and Barclays purchase them to help make their businesses more environmentally friendly.

If you aren’t familiar with what they are, carbon offsets can sound a little like the 15th century practice of buying indulgences. It sounds nice, but is relatively useless when the efforts to reduce carbon aren’t personally made by the company itself.

In the case of carbon offsets, this simply isn’t true. When a company purchases the carbon offsets, they are funding projects that remove vast quantities of carbon from the air. While that carbon removal doesn’t come from switching their office lights out early, or putting fewer cars on the road, it is no less effective. Many of the projects funded would never come to life if it wasn’t for the offsets that make funding available.

Another example of this is how some airlines like Emirates, American Airlines, and Delta offer their passengers the opportunity to purchase enough carbon offsets to cover the amount of emissions that their share of the airplane trip produces. Because flying is unavoidable for some people, these kinds of offsets meet people where they already are and offer them a environmentally-minded solution.

 

So what is a carbon offset?

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A carbon offset is a certificate acknowledging the fact that funds paid for by one company, will remove a certain amount of carbon (usually in tons) from the air. Companies that sell carbon offsets pay for projects that remove carbon, through projects such as creating green energy, capturing and destroying the greenhouse gases, or sequestering the carbon through the planting and management of forests.

These projects have profound impact on climate change. In some cases, such as Lyft’s carbon offset project to make car parts lighter, the project would never be possible without the carbon offsets. This is because the price is often not considered worth it by car companies, even though the impact on climate change can be seen for decades after the creation of the part.

Carbon offsets are essential for businesses who have no other way to make their business sustainable. While some of these we can argue would be better off not existing, carbon offsets also offer the chance to be sustainable to small businesses and even individuals that care about the environment.

In some locations, purchasing green energy is impossible, but thanks to carbon offsets, a small business that wants to be sustainable can purchase offsets equal to the power they consume. Eventually they may even reap the benefits of these projects, as green energy becomes more widely available thanks to the offsets available.

 

Are there drawbacks to carbon offsets?

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While anything that helps fight climate change is good, carbon offsets are frequently criticized because they allow companies to continue old habits without real change. The concern is that if the companies that use carbon offsets instead of addressing real problems in their business continue to do so, the damage done to the climate will worsen.

Despite these concerns, carbon offsets allow healing to occur in our delicate environment, and they are a great first step toward improving our global situation. Carbon offsets not only give us a chance to do better in our own lives, but to help address the carbon we can’t do anything about too.

Carbon offset credits are great because not only can the largest companies and governments in the world purchase them to offset emissions, they also allow anyone who is passionate about ending climate change to buy personal carbon offset credits, which broadens the scope of who can participate in large scale sustainability projects, and increasing those projects’ exposure.

To learn more about carbon offset credits or to purchase some of your own, check out sites like Terrapass or Carbon Fund.

Planned Parenthood's Latest Campaign Is Unstoppable

Throughout history, women taking charge of themselves, their bodies, careers and life choices, has seemingly been deemed revolutionary, sometimes rebellious, but without those powerful strides, who’s to say where women would be. There is an endless list of things that women would lack without the movements that took and are currently taking place. Certainly, facilities such as Planned Parenthood wouldn’t exist and while that may seem smaller-scale in a big picture for some, it’s nothing small for those who utilize their services.

Founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, shared her knowledge, activism and strong-will with the world when she began studying and educating women on birth control methods. Her knowledge was seen as threatening and brought on time in jail for her sister Ethel Byrne, an activist Fania Mindell and herself — the crimes charged were all related to sharing and educating others on birth control methods. 

The first Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau was opened in 1923, in Manhattan which provided birth control devices to women. The bureau also collected information and statistics about the safety of the devices on hand and the overall, long-term effects of it. This start lead to the legalization of birth control, bringing forth an entirely new era for women. Despite the reservations had when it came to Planned Parenthood, they remained strong for over 100 years after its original inception in 1913. Today there have been 650 clinics opened and Planned Parenthood isn’t stopping there — a new campaign has risen to ensure that Planned Parenthood remains “the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider, educator and advocate,” according to the Unstoppable website

Unstoppable is a Planned Parenthood powered campaign to continue fighting for the right to ensure everyone is able to have full control of their bodies to achieve true freedom and equality. The plan is also tackling other issues that many Americans face — needing support as a parent or caregiver, LGBTQ+ rights, health care, equal pay, proper care and prevention for sexual assault and harassment and of course, reproductive rights. 

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Unstoppable’s user-friendly website shares a surplus of facts as well as ways in which to help the movement forward. Their mission for parents and caregivers is to provide family leave for those who have had babies and ensure that the proper maternity care is provided for women. The site makes note of the rising childcare costs in a nation, the only developed one at that, that does not guarantee paid family leave. Single parents are found paying 36% of their earned income to provide their children with adequate care while they head back to work. For married parents, the cost is 10% of their earned income. 

Women of color find themselves in a tougher situation seeing that, statistically, they’re paid less, which makes childcare much more expensive. American Progress reports that 50% of monthly income is spent on childcare for low-income families. According to the Census Bureau American Community Survey, the low-income, working families make up 10.4 million of the nation’s population, earning roughly $45,000 per year. Planned Parenthood is patterned with National Partnership for Women and FamiliesMomsRising and SisterSong  —several organizations that are hoping to inform, educate and change the current state of family leave.

Planned Parenthood is also partnered with National LGBTQ Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality to continue ensuring that everyone is comfortable in their bodies and sexuality without fearing discrimination. The Unstoppable campaign hopes to dismantle the work that the Trump-Pence administration is doing to devalue the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. The Trump-Pence administration has tried to reestablish a ban that prohibits trans people from joining the military, changing rules that protect trans people in their place of employment and even supporting court cases by making anti-gay discrimination legal. 

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Unstoppable believes that healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community should be high-quality, affordable and informative while providing the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to their bodies, health and lives without the worry of feeling misunderstood, discriminated against or judged. 

Planned Parenthood has been offering affordable services for the last 100 years and they’re hoping to move forward with affordable care. Unstoppable shares that The Affordable Care Act or ACA managed to help 20 million Americans get coverage while making insurance more affordable which ended the discrimination many experiences when being refused coverage due to preexisting conditions or overcharging women for insurance. 

Despite the Affordable Care Act, health care remains costly for many Americans. With health care prices through the roof and the trickle down effects of systematic racism, women and people of color — women of color, especially — find themselves running into financial blockade when it comes to paying for care and insurance.  The LGBTQ+ community also find it hard to find adequate care due to their needs, but adding the barriers of medical discrimination and bias, doesn’t help one bit. 

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The Trump-Pence administration is also trying to change laws that will cause millions of people to lose their insurance coverage and their premium will cost even more than it already does. The administration is also making its way to destroy the Medicaid program which could result in 1 of every 5 Americans — majority women — to lose access to and benefits from the program. Unstoppable is working hard to change the number of people in the nation who still don’t have health insurance, which according to Vox, is still around 28 million. 

The campaign is also working towards eliminating sexual assault, harassment and any and every other form of sexual violence. While anyone can experience sexual violence, Unstoppable notes that women, people of color, those with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to experiencing sexual violence. The campaign defines sexual assault as “a use of force, coercion or an imbalance of power to make a person engage in sexual activity.” While rape is a form of sexual assault, it can take other forms such as forced and non-consented kissing, groping or touching. These forced actions are often done to degrade, humiliate, exude power over someone. There are certain people who shouldn’t be making these kinds of sexual advantages or forcing these actions on you — those people include family members, teachers, mentors, bosses or anyone who, under any circumstance, has more power over you. 

Last up on the campaign’s mission is equal pay and equal opportunity for women. Women make up a major contribution to the workforce with 74 million women in the United States who work outside of the home. Of the 74 million, two out of every three mothers are either the primary or co-breadwinner in their homes. Despite the numbers, women are still fighting to be paid fairly, let alone equally, to their male counterparts. 

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The pay gap also affects women of color to a different extent — black women earn 63 cents to every dollar that a white or a non-hispanic man earns, Latinas earn around 54 cents to the dollar and white women earn 78 cents. While these cents may seem small, when the figures stack up, women lose around $10,000 annually, according to NWLC

Unstoppable has several ways to help all of the aforementioned causes — signing the manifesto, spreading the word, posting a story to your Instagram, purchasing an Unstoppable tee-shirt or by making a donation. With gathered help, dedication and persistence, change is possible and Unstoppable is working hard to make it happen.

To learn more about Unstoppable, you can visit their website. You can also follow Planned Parenthood on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or make a donation to them on their website.

You can also follow Adelfa Marr on Twitter, or find her at her personal website.

NFL Protests: We Should All Be Kneeling

America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. But for African-Americans and other people of color, the fight for equality remains a never-ending struggle.

NFL players who kneel or raise their fists during the national anthem are protesting police brutality and racial inequality. The countless murders of unarmed black men by police officers and a criminal justice system riddled with racial disparities are Jim Crow-era issues. These silent, peaceful and non-violent protests should be commended, not vilified.

People of color have been the targets of police brutality throughout American history. In the 1960s, the FBI often sent undercover agents to infiltrate Civil Rights groups with a goal to cause chaos. Black Panther members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were assassinated in an early morning raid by the Chicago police in 1969. Although their deaths were ruled as a justifiable homicide, large settlements were awarded to their families and other plaintiffs in 1982.

While African Americans comprise about 12 percent of the total population, they represent 33 percent of the federal and state prison population. And, 27 percent of all people placed under arrest in the United States in 2016 were African-Americans. Unfortunately, the disparities do not end there.

An eye-opening 33 percent of individuals that are killed by police officers every year are African American. Even more concerning, a whopping 69 percent of police brutality victims in 2015 were unarmed African-Americans. To make matters worse, only three percent of police brutality cases that were monitored that same year resulted in an officer being held accountable for a crime. This is not just shameful. It’s legalized assault and murder.

After the Civil War, most African American veterans risked mistreatment and murder by simply wearing their uniforms. Nothing changed after the first World War when many veterans of color were denied the benefits and disability pay they had been pledged. Yet even with these miscarriages of trust, more than a million African American men signed up for World War II to fight for their country.

African American veterans who survived the war were shafted again once they returned home. The G.I. Bill had been purposely written in a way that most of its benefits — college tuition, housing assistance and business loans — were not made available to these brave patriots.

It has become customary for small groups of NFL players to meet at midfield after each game to form prayer circles. Should we vilify these players for exercising their first amendment rights because some atheists feel offended, or should we respect their freedom of speech? Unlike tariffs, when it comes to the constitution, we cannot pick winners and losers.

The double standard that exists in America today reaps of hypocrisy. A baker who is not willing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is applauded for his discrimination on religious grounds. But NFL players who hold silent protests during national anthems in a country that oppresses African-Americans and people of color are booed and called traitors.

Source: Crosscut

The right to protest does not come with rules and restrictions. To say that the national anthem or a football game is off limits for protestors is ridiculous. I understand the frustrations of drivers when protesters block highways and disrupt traffic. However, protest methods are not negotiable. Dissent, by nature, is not politically correct.

The American Revolutionary War began as a result of protests and civil disobedience. Demonstrators who illegally boarded a ship and tossed an entire shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor started a resistance movement that changed history. The Colonists fought oppression from the British Parliament and refused to abide by the Tea Act, which most felt violated their rights of no taxation without representation.

The Boston Tea Party was defended by Samuel Adams as an organized protest that was the only option for the Colonists to protect their constitutional rights. More than two centuries later, another Tea Party was formed in 2009 and organized protests that opposed the administration of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Besides reducing spending, waste, and taxation, the main goal of the movement was to ensure the government adherence to the Constitution.

African American athletes have a long history of highlighting social injustice by protesting the national anthem. Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos cemented their place in history when they raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Four years later in Germany, Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett were barred from the Olympic Games. Why? The duo stood on the podium but refused to face the flag during the national anthem.

Source: CNN

The first documented instance of African Americans protesting the national anthem is believed to have started in 1892 after three black men, who were in police custody, were lynched by a white mob. Nearly 1,000 angry people attending a meeting were urged to sing the de facto national anthem at the time, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” However, the crowd was in no mood to sing the song with one person saying, “I don’t want to sing that song until this country is what it claims to be, ‘sweet land of liberty.’”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was known as Lew Alcindor while attending UCLA, also did not stand during the national anthem. To rectify the problem before the Bruins matchup against the Washington Huskies, the national anthem was played while the teams were still in the locker room. In 1971, when five African American basketball players at Florida State University refused to stand for the anthem, the song was played before the players came onto the court.

When Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 by the NBA for not standing during the national anthem, the controversy was not about patriotism or being disrespectful to the flag. It was the fact that the league was undermining democratic values by attempting to force its players to participate in a patriotic exercise.

Unlike citizens in some third world nations who are mandated to attend flag-raising ceremonies every morning, Americans are not forced by any laws to stand for the national anthem. The same constitution that guarantees citizens the right to bear arms also provides Americans the freedom to choose to participate in voluntary exercises.

NFL players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have proven that America is still the home of the brave. However, until police officers are held accountable for their actions and the criminal justice system is reformed, America will never be the land of the free for people of color.

RideAustin: The Nonprofit Rideshare App That Gives Back

Rideshare programs are popping up all over America, allowing drivers to make some extra cash from their vehicle, and giving passengers a new option for travel. These companies are both international, national, and regional. RideAustin is one such company. Based in Austin, Texas, allows Austinites to choose from background checked drivers, and even female drivers if they also happen to be female. It is a popular app unique to the area.

Where companies like Uber and Lyft entered the Austin market with company standards that did not meet those of the city of Austin's, RideAustin is a non-profit organization that was created due to Lyft and Uber choosing to leave the area. Lyft and Uber did not want to have to fingerprint their drivers, a piece of legislation local to the area that was passed when the concept of ridesharing was just getting started. The sudden loss of rideshare programs left a transportation gulf for both riders and drivers alike. Over 10,000 people who used the services were left without any way to get rides. RideAustin became the solution in the wake of Lyft and Uber leaving.

Now those who prefer to grab a ride through the rideshare program have another reason to choose RideAustin. Riders can choose to round up their fare to the nearest dollar, with the money benefiting the charity of their choice every time they ride.

 Source:  RideAustin

Source: RideAustin

The charities available to choose from include options from Central Texas Food Bank, who's "mission is to nourish hungry people and lead the community in the fight against hunger," to the Texas Autism Society, which "is the nation's leading grassroots autism organization working to increase public awareness for those with Autism, advocate for appropriate services and provide information on treatment, research, and education."

In total, RideAustin has been able to donate over $250,000 just through the few extra pennies collected by charitable riders every time they ride. 

The company was a totally collaborative effort- built by the community, for the community. The app itself was donated by the tech field, and over 7 million dollars raised by the community and through various grants in order to bring it into existence. Because this rideshare non-profit was created with the community in mind, the Charity RoundUp option was built directly into the company, so riders could start offering a few extra cents to charity from the very beginning.

RideAustin also has several other community based projects in the works that also aim to aid those most in need in Austin. In a collaboration with the CCC (Community Care Collaborative) and the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas, RideAustin will pick patients up and help them get to their important medical appointments for free.

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Even though Uber and Lyft are now returning to the area after the fingerprinting legislation was over turned, but they may not find the area as welcoming as it used to be. Not only do people fall into habits, but Austinites love their local app, and with other companies such as Fare having moved into the area as well since Uber and Lyft left, there may not be as many drivers or riders available for these companies. Especially since neither of those larger rideshare companies offer the ability to give back while getting where you need to go.

RiseAustin was born out of necessity, but has grown into something that the big rideshare companies could learn from. Uber and Lyft are often discredited for not taking their impact on the markets that they operate in into account, with Uber taking the majority of that criticism. Since RideAustin was made for the community that it serves, by the community that it serves- while also giving riders the opportunity to give back to that same community, RideAustin has become a model company that, while familiar to those in Austin, should be taken note of across the rideshare economy.

You can learn more about RideAustin on their website.