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Inside 350.org and Why They Rise for Climate

Most people know 350 as the worldwide climate action network that has sparked a generation of environmental activism. It’s the organization behind the People’s Climate March, Exxon Knew, and Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. Every year, its influence grows as hundreds of thousands of people across the globe join in on its actions and show up for its chapter meetings. 350 not only networks people together at the grassroots level, but connects fellow climate change activist groups and unites them for major conglomerate projects and demonstrations. It helps smaller organizations make big changes together. There may not be a more significant presence in climate change activism than 350.

What many people don’t realize is that 350 is relatively young. Ten years ago, it was the infant brainchild of a famous author and a handful of young recent college graduates. It was dedication, hard work, and a commitment to social organizing that brought 350 to where it is today.

Starting a Movement

Bill McKibben was an active environmentalist long before he founded 350. In 1989, he’d become famous for his first book, The End Of Nature, which introduced millions of readers to the concept of climate change. In 2006, he led the “Step It Up” campaign, which included nationwide protests and his own personal walk across the state of Vermont. The enthusiasm that grew out of this action was momentous. Step It Up expanded, and in 2008, changed its name to 350.

Bill was the face and focal point for the young organization, but without a small group of dedicated Middlebury College alumni, 350 would never have become a reality. According to McKibben, who was a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College at the time, the recent grads took his ideas and turned them into a revolution. Step It Up had surprised everyone with the range of its success; now it transformed into a policy and grassroots organizing engine prepared to withstand the challenges ahead. The group’s new name referenced 350’s mission to reduce atmospheric carbon levels to 350 parts per million, the maximum safe level according to NASA scientist James Hansen. 

The founding group included May Boeve, who is still the executive director of 350, and Jamie Henn, who remains strategic communications director. The nonprofit’s success drew help like a magnet as people who had sought a focal point for climate action joined in spades. Bill McKibben’s appearance on The Colbert Report in 2009 caused the group’s popularity to rocket, and with awareness came support. Today, 350’s board of directors includes Naomi Klein, bestselling author of This Changes Everything. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in 350 climate actions in the over 188 countries where 350 is active.

350 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. CharityNavigator.org, which tracks the honesty of nonprofit groups and rates them according to transparency, gives 350 its highest score for accountability and conscientious use of funds. In fact, 84.9% of 350’s funding goes to “program expenses,” meaning the services, activities, and actions that 350 uses to make a difference in the world. It’s entirely supported by donations and gifts, and its revenue in 2016 was around $13.7 million. As director, May Boeve gets a little less than $100,000 per year in compensation. That’s a little low for someone running a global nonprofit - the president of Earthjustice nets more than three times that per year - and 350’s financial footprint is fairly light for a group that makes such a large splash. This efficiency is a credit to 350’s adherence to its ideals and the enthusiasm of the volunteer community that has rallied around it.

Part of the reason that 350 has become such a success is that it leverages technology very well. Online marketing is one of its principle strategies, and that strategy has paid off in a huge way. The people who started 350 were young and tech-savvy, willing to leverage social media and aware of the power of digital connection. That awareness has translated into a global network of partners and volunteers that has given 350 an amount of influence disproportionate for a company with less than 200 official employees. 

A distributed organization

350 has one clear, overarching mission: reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. This is the maximum safe limit for atmospheric carbon, as stated by NASA’s James Hansen in 2008. It’s a big goal, especially considering the fact that our air currently contains over 400 parts per million of carbon. That’s why 350 has broken this huge task down into smaller ones and distributed its mission across a network of chapters, also called “nodes.”

While 350’s headquarters is located in Brooklyn, New York, globally distributed regional action networks tie these nodes together and coordinate them. For example, you could become a member of a 350 node near your home in Lowell, Massachusetts, and that node will specifically work on issues pertaining to your city. However, it’ll answer to the statewide network, 350 Mass, in order to coordinate widespread actions and get guidance. 350 Mass will, in turn answer to the parent 350 organization.

Having a chapter setup gives 350 the flexibility to organize at the grassroots, local level even as it pressures governments worldwide to take action against carbon pollution. It can coordinate actions across the world by empowering local chapters, and it regularly partners with local organizations to build solidarity and make local actions more effective. For example, the mass action known as Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice took place in early September of 2018. 350 and several partner organizations like Sierra Club and the Climate Reality Project united to make this massive action possible. Though there were over 900 separate actions worldwide, they took place in a coordinated way. That meant that a rally in Joliet, Illinois, which was attended by about 500 people, supported an action far bigger than the Chicago area alone could have generated. It wasn’t just a 350 movement, either, but a joint effort with the People’s Climate Movement, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and even the local United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers union. Participants had a chance not just to support a global cause, but to build a stronger network on the ground. 

The chapter setup also allows 350 to put a known face on climate politics. Residents of Chicago might have been a little ruffled if a large lobbying agency rolled into town and engineered a demonstration, but when the demonstration is organized and attended by earnest Chicago-based volunteers, the message becomes more powerful. The people protesting at Joliet weren’t outsiders. They were neighbors, friends, and constituents, and they cared about Chicago’s future in a world that faces climate change. 

How 350 makes a difference

The scale of climate change is too big and varied to attack without a plan. There are too many different sectors of society tied up in fossil fuel. 350 deals with this problem by separating its mission into bite-sized chunks, and then into individual projects.

For example, one of 350’s goals is to fight the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure. This includes shipping, processing, and distribution networks for crude oil. The Keystone Pipeline System, completed in 2010, is exactly the kind of infrastructure that 350 tries to impede. In 2012, 350 made the final construction phase of the Keystone Pipeline System a focal point of its protests. To this day, 350 and its partners have managed to delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline using legal red tape and mass protest. The mission is to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, the strategy is to fight fossil fuel infrastructure, and the immediate project is stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. So far, this atomized method of addressing a big, complicated problem is proving very effective.

Stronger together

350 has used the divide-and-conquer strategy to cover a lot of ground so far. That said, one of its big advantages is that it actively connects dozens of other activist organizations and helps them to organize amongst one another. For example, 350’s Go Fossil Free divestment campaign, which began in 2012, actively partners with People & Planet, which is a student-based social and environmental justice group based in the U.K. 

Whether 350 starts a project, such as Go Fossil Free, or gets involved with an existing project, like the People’s Climate March, it puts a lot of energy toward networking activist groups together. Not only does this strategy get more people involved in protests and demonstrations, but it pulls in experts who might have relevant experience. 350 doesn’t have to be the most experienced organization, and it doesn’t have to be the best organization for a specific job. All it has to be is the best organization for building partnerships. Lending assistance to other groups can be much more powerful than running a campaign solo from start to finish. 

350 even partners outside of environmental circles, forging alliances with the famous U.K. newspaper The Guardian and The United Church of Christ. In many cases, it opts to stand up for other social justice issues, like police brutality, in order to build cohesion with other progressive groups. Not only is this simply the right thing to do, but it generates a very positive image for environmental activism. People who care about other progressive issues are more likely to see 350 and its volunteers as helpful allies whose actions are worth attending.

Educating new activists

Some of 350’s best organizational partners are made up of familiar faces. For example, the Divestment Student Network is made up of activists whom 350 trained at a Fossil Free Fellowship workshop in 2013. Since then, 350 has logged over $5 trillion divested from educational and municipal pension funds, much of it with DSN’s help, and victories continue to accumulate. In 2017, New York City and State committed to divest. One of the big reasons that this happened was because 350 has been so generous with information. The more activists it can train, the more likely it is that it will accomplish its goals.

That’s why 350 offers free online trainings. Right now, there are eight of these videos, which the 350 website refers to as “skill-ups,” that cover having productive climate conversations and grassroots campaigning for beginners. The average length of each video is thirty minutes. 

The 350 trainings website includes a ton of other resources, including exercises for in-person group training facilitators and free handouts for meetings. At in-person events, such as the Global Climate Action Summit, 350 nodes might also hold in-person workshops, such as the free personal divestment class that 350 Silicon Valley presented with Santa Clara University in September 2018.

Marches, protests, and demonstrations

Of all its activities, 350 is probably most famous for its demonstrations. These are often partnership events along the lines of the Rise for Climate march in Joliet. (If 350 is good at one thing, it’s sharing credit!) Their protests are always peaceful and organized. The Rise for Climate movement even saw participation in Antarctica

350 encourages other mass action, too. For example, divestment efforts have translated into small-scale bank account closures and protests. By educating people about environmental topics, 350 empowers them to make changes in their own lives too. 

Whether actions are large or small in scale, one of their chief functions is PR. 350 makes sure that during and after every event, the world knows what happened. Showing that people are willing to upset their routine to march or protest is one of the most powerful ways to communicate how serious an issue climate change is. By publicizing marches and activities, 350 also turns itself into a news source for climate action, not only for itself, but for its partners too. Twitter is one of the most important venues for this activity.

Political action

As an organization, 350 takes a multifaceted approach to change. On one hand, protest and public demonstration is an important part of its toolkit. Getting people into the streets with signs and chants - or getting them to stake out politicians’ offices - shows policymakers and non-activists that the climate is a serious, present issue that people care about. Grassroots campaigns are 350’s bread and butter.

However, 350 also follows up the public side of these campaigns with political action that’s not as flashy, but also gets results. In fact, 350 currently employs a policy director, Jason Kowalski, whose job is to discuss 350’s goals with lawmakers and political influencers. Jason also attended Middlebury College, and he was involved in the original Step It Up campaign in 2007, so he’s been in the 350 family for over a decade. 

According to OpenSecrets.org, 350 also spends some money on political campaigns, helping to finance the election of Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and spending nearly $100,000 to campaign against Donald Trump’s election in 2016. However, compared to other influential political organizations, their involvement in the political process is small. In 2018, Exxon alone spent over $1 million on its preferred political candidates.

Opposition

It’s no secret that change is hard. Sometimes, it sends you to jail. 350 founder Bill McKibben has been arrested several times, once outside of a gas station where he stood to protest during the #ExxonKnew campaign.  At Keystone XL protests outside of the White House, which 350 helped to organize, dozens of protesters left in handcuffs

These are high-profile situations that make splashy news headlines. However, the greatest opposition that 350 faces exists in political and social structures that resist a shift away from fossil fuel. That’s why every battle that 350 fights is an uphill one, from getting anti-fracking measures on the ballot in California to stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built across Native lands. 

Successes

All of this effort has paid off in a big way. Not only has 350’s work helped municipalities and colleges divest over $6 trillion in fossil fuel assets, but that divestment has, according to Shell’s 2018 annual report, seriously threatened the oil giant’s bottom line. It’s quite a coincidence that on December 3, 2018, Shell bowed to investor pressure and tied executive salary to short-term greenhouse gas reductions!

350’s efforts to stop fracking have also borne fruit. The state of Paraná in Brazil finally banned the practice in 2016, and 350’s efforts in Uruguay have stalled fracking activities near the Guaraní Aquifer. Efforts to halt fracking in California continue.

One of 350’s biggest triumphs happened in 2015, when the Obama administration cited climate change as a reason to stop construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. For a moment, everyone who had worked for years to prevent this environmental disaster from going forward celebrated. Then, a year later, the Presidential administration changed. The Trump administration restarted its efforts to build the Keystone XL, leading to the ongoing legal battle in which 350 is still engaged today.

However, even when it has to endure setbacks, 350 sees its popular support rising. The annual People’s Climate March, for which 350 partners with a large number of other environmental organizations, saw over 200,000 participants in Washington, D.C. alone in 2017. In 2015, parts of the Philippines started to ban the construction of new power plants thanks to 350’s efforts, and that trend continues today. Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice saw tens of thousands of people worldwide march in the name of a green future. Although there are still huge challenges ahead, it’s clear that 350 has hit a cultural and political nerve. 

Where it’s going

The fight against climate change has only just begun. Even now, when the effects of fossil fuels on the natural world are easily visible, the political resistance to action against climate change is both well-funded and entrenched. 350 has a lot more work to do if it’s going to get our atmospheric carbon levels down to a safe level again.

Every year, this organization pushes its mission a little further. Every year sees a few more pension plans divested and a few more fracking operations made illegal. As the battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline rages on, 350 and its partners Bold Nebraska and the Indigenous Environmental Network cooperate to build solar arrays directly in the path of the proposed oil transit corridor. 

Just ten years into its existence, 350 is showing the world that you don’t need to be rich or powerful to make a difference in something that matters. Progress can happen anywhere, especially if done together with others.

Rise for Climate was a worldwide climate movement that took place over 7 continents, in 95 countries, with 900+ actions that took place on September 8, 2018. It was co-organized by several organizations including 350, Climate Reality Project, In Kind, People’s Action, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, and World Wildlife Fund.

You can learn more about 350 or donate to them here. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Amazon Donates to Charity When You Shop Through Smile

The holiday season is the busiest time for shoppers, and that uptick in sales can be seen everywhere from local small businesses to online giant like Amazon. For charities, the season of giving is also an opportunity to raise much needed revenue for their causes as the year ends. The shopping giant Amazon now allows you to give back to your favorite charities while getting your holiday shopping done by using Amazon Smile.

The program, Amazon Smile allows you to make a donation to your favorite charity simply by shopping through their Amazon Smile portal. Every product you purchase through the portal will result in a 0.5% donation to the charity of your choice. There is no spending limit, and donations are automatic as long as the purchase was made through Amazon Smile. As of writing, the program has raised $105,515,619.04 in total for all of the nonprofits that are in the program.

Shopping through the portal does not cost you anything additional. The prices for the products in the portal are exactly the same as the prices on their main website. The only difference is the donation. It's a simple, non-obstructive way to give back to others while purchasing what you otherwise already would have.

Amazon Smile also showcases a selection of charities for given categories if you need help choosing which cause to support, which is helpful because millions of nonprofits are able to be donated to via Smile. They also organize nonprofits into categories like In addition, you are able to search the charities by location to see if there are any organizations helping your local area.

While 0.5% may not seem like a lot of money, it can make all the difference, especially for smaller charities. In some cases, that little bit could make the difference between life and death. Angie Gunter, who is on the board of directors for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA had this to say:

 Source:  Amazon

Source: Amazon

“Every little bit we get is… they're lifesavers. I mean, it's literally life-saving gifts, so every dime counts. It's the time of giving. This is the time of the year where people open up their hearts and their wallets typically and they want to give, and I can't think of better a way to give then to your favorite charity.” 

It's a rare chance to have the ability to make a difference without spending a penny out of your own pocket, but Amazon Smiles lets do that. Every time you make the purchases you had already planned to make anyway through the portal, Amazon will add that .5% to that charity’s tally and write them a check when they routinely pay out.

In the aggregate, with the help of millions of other Amazon customers, your donations can save the lives of shelter pets in need, feed the hungry, fight cancer, save the planet, or anything else you might want to support. What ever cause is nearest to you can receive the benefits of these donations.

Unfortunately, there is one down side. Since the money for the donations aren't coming out of your pocket, the donations are not tax deductible.Charities can also ask to be removed from the program, and have to be in good standing with the IRS to be eligible to participate.

All in all, bookmarking smile.amazon.com in your browser instead of going directly to amazon.com is a completely simple task that any Amazon shopper (you don’t even need Prime!) can do that, depending on their purchasing behavior, can have immediate and bountiful positive effects on a nonprofit or cause that they support. The benefits cost you nothing since they come out of Amazon’s pocket, and the program is worth your consideration.

You can learn more about Amazon Smile here.

Uber Set to Offer Their Best Drivers a College Tuition

In an effort to boost driver satisfaction and loyalty, Uber is launching a new program called Uber Pro. Amongst other perks, the rideshare company is offering its best drivers free college tuition through a partnership with the University of Arizona’s online program. The incentive covers both undergraduate and graduate programs that the school offers, and is good for as long as drivers maintain their status in the perk system.

 Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

Uber Pro is a tier based incentives program designed by Uber to both improve relationships with its drivers, and also discourage them from driving with its major competitor, Lyft. In addition to college tuition, drivers can earn up to a 6% bonus on fares, free car repair for dents and scratches, cash back on gas purchases, and free 24/7 roadside assistance. The rewards are broken into segments, and as drivers drive more (while keeping their positive reviews), they will earn better and better rewards.

In order to be eligible, you need to meet a few qualifications. Uber Pro is designed for people who drive for Uber professionally—hence the name Uber Pro. That means people who drive for Uber regularly, and not just as an occasional lark. Uber isn't planning to restrict based on hours, however, qualifying applicants must have a high review rating, with a minimum of 4.85 stars, and a low cancellation rate of less than 4%. The goal isn't so much to encourage drivers to drive more, but to make sure when they are driving they are giving customers their all.

 Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

Although the free college tuition is restricted to just one college and online courses only, you can still get 80 different undergraduate degrees using the program, fully funded by Uber. The courses, offered by the University of Arizona, are advertised to be the exact same coursework as their in person courses. They also have skill programs tailored to helping you in life, such as English language courses in addition to more technical offerings and graduate programs. For cash strapped students and drivers, this is an opportunity that may be too good to resist. To make the incentive accessible for even more drivers, Uber allows drivers to transfer the tuition to another person in their family.

Right now the pilot program is only being tested in eight cities. It's available to all drivers in Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, and Phoenix, and to about half of drivers in Denver, New Jersey, Orlando, and Tampa.

There are four tiers to the program. Partner, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. In order to receive free college tuition you need to achieve either Platinum or Diamond status. You have the opportunity to go up or down in status once every 3 months, so even if you have a bad week, you still have the opportunity to do better and recover your status. You can also lose your status if you start exhibiting poor driving skills after achieving your coveted level.

After the initial test period, Uber plans to expand the program nationwide. If successful, this will become a great opportunity for Uber’s drivers- either giving them economic mobility that may have otherwise been out of reach or furthering them or a family member along in their professional life. While there are still issues in the relationship between rideshare companies and the people they contract to drive for them, this is an incentive offered in good faith that makes that relationship seem less tenuous.

I Love This Album: The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz: 

A Phantasmagoria of Hysterical, Apocalyptic Melodrama

A cultural journalist and lyrical anthropologist to the historical, weird, wild and grotesque, Sufjan is also a sensitive, loving man who asks big questions of himself and the world. He is an empathic figure with robust humanity spilling out of every song. Whether his songs are simple and spare, marked by long silences and echoes (as with his first 5 studio albums), or grandiose cacophonies like an Amadeus symphony (as with his sixth proper album, The Age of Adz), his songs always burst at the seams with veiled meaning and subtext— packing in maximum artistry as well as any Mozart concerto. The challenging songs drill inside your psyche and make you ruminate long into the night. They are as mesmerizing as they are poignant.  

One might assume that The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds”) is a less-than-subtle a pun on how strange this album is. Not only strange in the sense of being an alien-level departure from his other albums, but also odd in its very content. Alas, rumor has it from interviews— assuming we have a reliable narrator in Sufjan—that the misspelling is merely a direct quote from Royal Roberts’ writings and illustrations.  

Royal Roberts, the inspiration for the title and visual art, was a paranoid schizophrenic artist living in obscurity in a ramshackle home deep in the bayou. A Louisiana folk painter and self-proclaimed “prophet,” as he is described in the album’s liner notes.  

 Source:  Sufjan Stevens

Of course, this raises the question about Royal’s artistic intents when he proclaims—“This is the age of adz—eternal living.” Is this about the rapture? Ascension into the afterlife; whether banjo-plucking angels in paradise or a spiraling pit of hellfire? His preoccupation with Armageddon seems to suggest this is true.

Sufjan’s music is always tinged with at least a gossamer underpinning of religion, although he admits in interviews he tries not to be too heavy-handed with his spirituality; lest he alienate fans. He seems to struggle with existential questions. He is nothing if not philosophical and at times, deliberately overdramatic.  

This album still brings a welcome and beautiful psychic pain every time I listen to it, especially after a gap of a few years. But upon the first few listens, it really shook me to my core. It’s hard to recapture the magic of that first listen. It seemed as primal as it was prophetic. A profound meditation on the human condition, on the nature of the universe, on the inner workings of the mind. It seems everything and nothing at the same time, which is perhaps the essence of religion, stripped bare. It is a curiosity that declares knowledge with certainty and hopefulness, while acknowledging skepticism lurking around the corner with the truth.

The first track, “Futile Devices,” eases the listener into the album with familiar strums of guitars, nothing too electronic just yet. Reminiscent of his previous albums. His longer songs test the limits of patience (Impossible Soul clocks in at 25 minutes and change), but they also transition enough to seem like multiple songs that flow together and can hardly be accused of being dull.

The title song, Age of Adz, is certainly one of the strongest and most jarring, with computer noises and Auto-Tune and abrupt dubstep-jazzy discord.  To me, the most arresting lyric is: “When I die, I’ll rot… but when I live I’ll give it all I’ve got.” A call to action, I wonder— as I listen, enraptured by the melancholy anthem. Or is it a recognition of this mortal life being all we have?  Struggling with his belief in the afterlife? A manifesto of forward motion, hurtling toward cosmic accomplishment and excellence. Death is inevitable. So let’s LIVE.   

Age of Adz, follows the formula that was popular in many album mixes, which is to make the third song one of the strongest. Lyrically, this is one of the most interesting. It speaks in literary and religious metaphor, like the most epic of Greek tragedies and myths. It is grand and awesome and evokes apocalyptic visions. 

He goes on to lament “I’ve lost the will to fight.” Fight to live, or fight against his own beliefs? The lyrics are mysterious and open to interpretation, but that’s part of the literary beauty of this composition. 

As an artist who speaks candidly about his Catholicism, Sufjan’s music seems to reflect religious shame and yearning to rebel against tradition. Listeners can feel his fear of judgment and his desire to throw caution to the wind, while embracing true love. This allows him to live as a bold and unrestrained artist while still staying in the bounds of his religion.

With “I Walked,” the first single and the most harmonic ballad, the synthesizer weirdly reminds me of Ray Kurzweil’s keyboards, and further, of Kurzweil’s futurism and existential philosophy surrounding artificial intelligence. This album seems like a “singularity” in and of itself. A Big-Bang style birth of something magnificent and dark and wonderful. A rebirth for Sufjan’s artistic style.  A nascent genre of new and unpredictable music.

On a literal level, it makes me think it’s a tribute for Elliot Smith, who “left a mess on the floor” after “stabbing himself in the chest.” Yet, it is more likely a song about unrequited or disastrous love. Maybe the two are the same. After all, love is often a suicide of the ego. 

Sufjan’s lyrics and melodies are notoriously sad and solemn. The most common mood for his best songs is heartbreaking. Achingly beautiful and tortured self-doubt, gilded with bitter jealousy. It is as evocative as the listener’s state of mind while taking it all in. Indeed, it has meant so many different things to me upon different listens, sometimes years between revisiting, after I’ve transformed into a completely new man with completely new ears for music.

 Source:  AV Club

Source: AV Club

There’s an explosiveness to this music, a chaotic violence, frenzied and raw with emotion and juvenile yearning as much as mature lamentation of the struggles of life. As he shouts passionately in “I Want to be Well,” he’s “Not FUCKING AROUND.” And when it comes to life’s big questions, neither should we.

This album runs the gamut of emotion, leaps across a broad spectrum of love-filled trills and dance-worthy hooks and dubstep beats that drop in your stomach, churning a reaction to the abruptness to songs like “Too Much.” Sounds effects of laser guns and 80s video games.  Fluttering flutes, jazzy alto sax, familiar banjo twangs and computer synth distortion reminiscent of Thom York’s most anxious arrangements. It is almost anxiety-inducing at the end of “Too Much.” It really is too much. And then it calms down into powerful, heartrending ballots as the album progresses.

This album is experimentalism of the highest order. The folk wisdom is still present, it’s just wrapped in something more enigmatic, a fabric of mysterious and colossal power. His arrangements are lush, vibrant and layered. His voice shakes and trembles as much as it soars with bombast and outrage. He exudes compassion and sensitivity while crying out with a principled rage and fury. His music, like his inspiration, can be described as “schizophrenic,” with all due respect to that condition and all its challenging manifestations and personal burdens.

It’s something of an otherworldly feat that Sufjan could weave together music that is at once painstakingly meticulous and polished and at the same time unpredictable like the most manic of jazz experimentalism. He is free form in his cohesiveness. He brings order to cosmic chaos. His songs are pandemonium and they are gospel from a great seer on high.  

He uses the first version of Autotune that doesn’t seem cheap and contrived. Indeed, it amplifies the futuristic and agonizing frustration he is venting with these most confessional of lyrics. One gets the impression that music is therapy for Sufjan, perhaps even more than it is therapy for his adoring fans, which is no small accomplishment. 

On some tracks he seems world-weary, exhausted by life and effort, but then restless and yearning for action, for change and for reinvention. Renaissance of the mind. Mental health achieved through the meditation of music. 

There is a deliberate overarch of glitch-iness in the computer sounds, a sort of white noise static and distortion that seems to serve as a metaphor for the incessant voices and inner demons suffered by mankind, not only the healthy mind of the examined life, but the tortured schizophrenic especially. There is harmony is his conflict, and ugliness in his beauty. 

With “Now That I’m Older” we get a treatise on the wisdom that comes with age, longing for the bliss and innocence of youth, begrudgingly accepting the pain and responsibility of adulthood.

“Vesuvius,” by contrast, is one of the album’s most haunting and evocative masterpieces. He revisits some of his journalist/historian roots with this meditation on Pompeii and the 2,000 year-old eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that violently wiped the city off the map. It serves as perfect allegory for the album’s apocalyptic themes, and yet, lyrically, seems to reflect Sufjan’s own inner turmoil bubbling over, with lines like “Sufjan, the panic inside/the murdering ghost that you cannot ignore,” which perhaps is a battle with his own demons that mirror those demons that Royal fought in his own head. “Why does it have to be so hard?” he asks later in the song, about the struggles of life’s tribulations.   

In interviews, Sufjan stated that he suffered from a debilitating viral infection that wreaked havoc on his nervous system. He was in pain, both mental and physical, and had to take a convalescing hiatus from his art several months. He explained that “The Age of Adz, is a result of that process of working through health issues... getting much more in touch with my physical self.” He went on to describe the overall tone as having “a hysterical melodrama,” which is the most succinct encapsulation of this album.  

I can never get through this album without succumbing to awe-inspired goosebumps.  

Age of Adz showcases Sufjan Stevens at his most ambitious, his most experimental, his greatest heights as an indie torch song crooner-cum-folk superstar. He is a maestro, and this is his greatest masterpiece. Alongside Radiohead’s OK Computer, this is a rare album that I believe is, in a word: perfect.

I Love This: is a reoccurring feature from In Kind where writers and readers review a favorite work by a favorite artist of theirs.

Facebook Is Matching Donations Made on Their Platform This Giving Tuesday

The holidays are a time for giving, and this year Facebook is helping your gifts mean just a little bit more. On #GivingTuesday, November 27th starting at 8AM, you can start a fundraiser or donate to the charity of your choice. On this day, Facebook and PayPal will match donations by users up to $7,000,000 or the time reaches 11:59PM.

FacebookIphone.jpeg

That is $5,000,000 more than last years donation match of $2,000,000, and thanks to the global nature of Facebook and Paypal, that means donations can be sent to even the smallest of charities based in your very own community.

On November 27th, 5 days after Black Friday, generous users have just one day in order to double their donations for the cause that matters most to them. As with most donation matches, there are a few catches. Donations can only be made to US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and those nonprofits have to be able to receive their funds through Facebook. There is also a cap of 250k per nonprofit, and 20k per donor for the match.

Now is one of the best times to give after the recent disasters that have been felt all over the world. The wildfires that have left over 10,000 people without homes, hurricane Michael that did over 14 billion in damage, as well as mudslides and flooding all over the states.

Giving Tuesday has a long history, starting in 2012. The 92nd street Y and the United Nations Foundation decided to hold the event as a response to the consumerism seen on Black Friday and Thanksgiving. The annual tradition that is supposed to mark how much we have to be thankful for has been overblown in many ways by the sales that have leaked from Black Friday onto Thanksgiving itself.

These two founders decided the Tuesday after Black Friday would be the chance for people to give back to the world, and to show the true spirit of the holidays. Their efforts were a big success, and now Giving Tuesday raises hundreds of millions every year for charity.

While giving money is the main way to donate, the Giving Tuesday foundation also encourages you to donate time and goods to local charities, and even has a convenient search bar where you can find local charities to volunteer at.

For most of us, time is something we can little afford to give, but we can afford to drop a couple dollars into a fundraiser when we're clicking around on Facebook—and thanks to the generosity of Facebook and Paypal, even a small donation of a few dollars will be doubled if you do it on Giving Tuesday.

You can also help spread the word about Giving Tuesday by using their hashtag, #GivingTuesday and sharing it on social media. Together we can make a difference, and help charities all over the US have a brighter and merrier holiday. This Tuesday, mark your calendar so you can kick off the giving season with double the impact, thanks to the generosity of Facebook.

California Town Hosts Victims of Camp Fire for Thanksgiving

For the victims of this years deadly California wildfires, it may not feel like there is much to be thankful for. More than 11,000 homes were destroyed in fires this year, and over 79 people killed in the deadliest fire ever recorded in California. Even with predicted rainstorms bringing much needed rain to the dry brush, these storms also promise deadly and destructive mudslides yet to come.

Yet a Sacramento suburb, Lincoln, is making an effort to bring a little light and hope to these victims. Local residents have gathered together to give up their holidays, and spend their time helping these victims still have theirs. 

Jeannette Bermudez, one of the initial organizers of the holiday feast for fire victims, watched the devastation caused by the Camp Fire with her 9 year old son who was home due to school closures from the smoke. While they watched, he asked her what they were going to do about it. In a spur of the moment decision, she decided to host Thanksgiving Dinner for those left with nothing, and made a Facebook post about it.

The small town of just 47,000 people answered her call, and big time. The fire department got involved and held a drive that garnered over 100 turkeys for the event. Businesses and restaurants donated everything from food to toys and games for the event. The city of Lincoln itself even donated the event location completely free for the day.

Even a local dog groomer is getting involved, inviting fire victims to drop their dog off for free puppy-sitting during the feast, and a free bath and groom so their dogs will come back fresh and clean. After enduring the soot and smoke of sometimes very close escapes, it is a welcome relief for fire victims of the four footed kind as well.

Many more volunteers will be giving up Thanksgiving day itself, foregoing their own dinners so they can serve the people who need a little holiday cheer the most. For those who have lost everything, sometimes even loved ones as well as houses and everything that makes them a home, this Thanksgiving feast couldn't come at a better time. 

Paradise was a retirement community for the most part, and consisted mostly of people over the age of 65. Paradise had no official business, and was simply a refuge for people who couldn't afford California's sky high housing market. At this point in time, no one even know if Paradise will be able to rebuild, or if mudslides will claim even more lives and properties as rain begins to cool the flames.

At least one day however, they can sit down with family and friends, and eat a turkey feast knowing that the town of Lincoln will be there to help them through these difficult times, now, and in the future too. It is a truly beautiful expression of what family and community is all about, and hopefully will result in lifelong friendships forged this holiday season.

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. 

uber

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!

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.

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

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.

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.