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Salvage Food Products and Chicago's Growing Zero Waste Movement

Food companies waste food. It’s an unfortunate fact of the industry, and in an age when every ton of carbon counts, it’s is a humanitarian triple whammy. Not only is edible food not going into hungry mouths, but the fuel used to harvest it meaninglessly contributes to our carbon footprint and much of that discarded food goes into methane-burping landfills. As consumers wake up and demand change, companies large and small are starting to question the wisdom of large-scale corporate food waste. Salvage Food Products is one of the most creative of these entrepreneurs. Their mission: turn the residue from the hard cider brewing process into delicious vinegar. It’s the latest development in a zero waste movement that is starting to catch fire worldwide.

Who are Salvage?

Nicholas Beaulieu

Nicholas Beaulieu

Nicholas Beaulieu and Jason Garland knew one another long before they began Salvage Food Products together in 2017. Both chefs, they’d been friends for years by the time they sat down with a plan to open a business and tackle food waste. 

Although the idea was fresh in the Chicago area, Nicholas was already an old hand at recycling brewery product. He’d worked as director of sales in North Bay, Ontario, for a brewery that generated a significant amount of waste product. He quickly realized that the money the company was spending on marketing, packaging, and merch was completely wasted if perfectly good brew was going down the drain. There was more than a little waste involved, too. Even the vats where beer and cider are brewed end up with some extra dregs that don’t make it into the bottle.

Where one person might have shrugged the unusable brew off as the cost of doing business, Nicholas saw an opportunity to both reduce waste and profit. He started recovering beer that otherwise would have gone to the dump and turning it into vinegar. That vinegar, in turn, went to local restaurants. Good beer made good vinegar, and the idea was a hit. Soon, other breweries wanted to work with Nicholas, too. It was a valuable experience.

Nicholas eventually married and moved to Chicago, where he reunited with his best friend and fellow food professional, Jason Garland. They were both interested in vinegar, and by coincidence, so was Charlie Davis of Right Bee Cider. Together, they hatched a plan to save unwanted cider from obscurity. The moment for upcycled vinegar had arrived. 

Now Salvage makes excellent vinegar that not only saves the environment, but spreads the word about Right Bee’s products. Responsible businesses like this one represent ideal products for a generation that notoriously buys based on its values. According to recent data, 73% of millennials prefer to spend extra money on sustainable products. More are going zero waste, too. 

Since starting, Salvage has grown tremendously. They’re acquiring more clients and starting to explore new product lines. (Who wouldn’t love a jam or hot sauce made from their favorite cider?) This will take some extra licensing and additional equipment, as well as cooperation with new partners, but the future looks bright. In just two years, they’ve become a unique fixture on the Chicago food scene.

What is zero waste?

Jason Garland

Jason Garland

When you think of “waste,” you might have visions of plastic toy packaging piling up on the floor during the holidays, plastic grocery bags riding the breeze down trash-strewn alleys, and endless junkyards full of rusting metal. But waste isn’t just extra material. It’s material that doesn’t need to be waste in the first place! Styrofoam packing peanuts, which don’t decay, get thrown out after one use, and require energy to manufacture and transport are an obviously pointless source of garbage. (After all, there is such a thing as paper packing material.) But even though food is renewable and biodegradable, wasting it is deceptively dangerous for the Earth. It’s easy to tsk about styrofoam, which is obviously destined to end up polluting the planet for centuries to come, but harder to notice the huge, largely invisible effect that wasted food has on our environment. Even dedicated environmentalists who do notice it are sometimes at a loss as to how to deal with the problem. Consumers can compost and resist discarding food, but so much of the waste involved happens at the production level that consumer behavior changes can only do so much. Think about all those weird-looking but otherwise normal apples that never make it to the supermarket.

That’s why, when an enterprising startup shows up to interrupt the waste cycle at the corporate level, people sit up and take notice. Salvage Food Products are determined to strike a blow against waste at one of its big sources: the brewery. By partnering with Right Bee Cider of Chicago, they’re showing Illinois that zero percent waste can mean a hundred percent better for both business and nature.

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

How it works

The idea of “waste cider” may not sound terribly appealing to you at first blush. Don’t think of what Salvage uses as garbage, because it’s not. In fact, it’s usually just extra cider - not enough to bottle and sell, but perfectly fine to drink. 

There are a few ways that brewing companies end up with this unsaleable excess. First of all, they may happen to generate bottles of product with incorrect or faulty labeling. Think three labels on the bottle, or the wrong label on the wrong product. Distribution issues can result in extra cider as well, as can mistakes in the brewing process. Sometimes, brewers will even have to contend with returns or product that hasn’t sold. Alcohol does go off-date, but only in the sense that it starts to change into vinegar. That’s where Salvage comes in.

Salvage puts that alcohol into fermenting tanks and lets it keep progressing on its journey toward full vinegar status. To understand how this happens, it helps to know a little bit about the chemistry involved. Making vinegar is a fermentation process that fundamentally changes an alcoholic substance into an acidic one. You may have personal experience with this phenomenon if you’ve ever kept an open bottle of wine too long. Eventually, instead of sweet and intoxicating, the wine will just taste sour. Popular Science has a pretty good article about how this happens and why it is no tragedy. Vinegar made from great alcohol generally makes a fantastic cooking ingredient. This chef secret has a lot to do with the success of Salvage.

At the cellular level, vinegar-making is a group effort. A type of bacteria called acetobacter consumes the ethanol that makes wine and beer intoxicating and replaces it with acetic acid. Salvage Food Products simply takes excess, unused, and unloved alcohol - which would otherwise be thrown out - and lets those bacteria eat it up. 

Right Bee Cider

Right Bee Cider

The company accomplishes this en masse by using vats quite a bit larger than your forgotten bottle of table wine. A small amount of alcohol in a bottle turns into vinegar fairly easily because it’s well-exposed to the air. Acetobacter needs oxygen and warm temperatures in order to work its magic. (It’ll live quite happily between 59 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why it thrives on your kitchen table, but if you really want it to grow well, you’ll need to keep it between 80 and 85 degrees.) Knowing that, it’s easy to see why a huge amount of alcohol in a deep, mostly airless vat could take months to change into vinegar.

Traditional vinegar brewing is a static process. The Orleans method, a famous French vinegar-making process, is a good example: the wine or beer just sits around until its alcohol has turned to acid. Then, the vinegar brewers empty most of the vat, leaving the bacterial mat as a seed for the next batch. Nicholas and Jason have customized the more modern submerged acidification technique, which pumps air into the fermenting vinegar. By exposing the brew to more oxygen, they can turn a vat of cider into vinegar in less than a week.

Great for nature, great for business

Brewing involves a significant amount of unavoidable waste. When a brewer ends up with a bunch of cider or beer that they can’t get rid of, then they need to spend even more money to have that stuff shipped away and safely disposed of. Pouring it down the drain is against the rules, and recycling alcohol is expensive. Nicholas reports that one Chicago brewer pays out of pocket to get rid of thousands of gallons of alcohol at a time. Add that to the money already spent packaging, labeling, marketing, and shipping the product, and you’ve got a big financial pain in the neck, no matter how well your brewery is performing. 

It’s no wonder that so many beer and cider companies are interested in what Salvage is doing. By making wasted cider into something useful and delicious, this innovative company recovers up to 75% of that lost product...not to mention a great deal of the lost investment! A tank malfunction suddenly turns into a golden opportunity to create something new. Unwanted product doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. 

In a society where waste culture is ingrained, most people - and companies - think next to nothing of tossing away waste. Changing this will involve both cultural shifts and some serious out-of-the-box thinking. Solutions won’t always be as straightforward as compostable cutlery and beeswax food wraps. Salvage is stepping into a niche that the food industry didn’t realize it needed: efficient, smart recovery of food that we can no longer afford to throw out. 

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

Explaining the Green New Deal and Its Critical Urgency

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October 2018 report warned that averting or mitigating food shortages, wildfires, extreme weather events, coral reef die-offs and other disasters will require global human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to  reach net zero—so that all remaining emissions were matched by carbon capture mechanisms-- by 2050. They acknowledged that reaching this target would require a rapid economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

Some US lawmakers are proposing a radical transformation to deal with the crisis, and they are citing a historical precedent. The  “Green New Deal” invokes the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping programs to promote employment and social safety nets when the nation was crippled by the Great Depression. Those programs were denounced as radical government overreach in their day, but they helped many struggling families to survive, and a few New Deal initiatives-- including Social Security and the FDIC –remained law and are now accepted across the political spectrum. 

Just what is the Green New Deal? The term was coined in 2007 by Thomas Friedman, who was suggesting steps to curb US reliance on foreign oil. In 2008-9 the UN called for a ‘Global Green New Deal’ in which developed countries would invest at least 1% of GDP in reducing carbon dependency, while developing economies should spend 1% of GDP on improving access to clean water and sanitation for the poor as well as strengthening social safety nets. 

Green Party candidate Jill Stein ran on a “Green New Deal” in 2012 and 2016. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez adopted the term during her successful campaign for the House of Representatives. In recent days lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Ed Markey have voiced support for some form of Green New Deal, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has sketched out a Green New Deal for his state as part of his budget proposal. A Green New Deal is called for in an open letter to all lawmakers signed by more than 350 elected officials across America, and also in a letter to the US House of Representatives signed by more than 600 environmental groups. There are some differences between these New Deal proposals, but they share many important features. 

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

Each Green New Deal proposal sets an ambitious target for emissions reduction. An earlier proposal from Ocasio-Cortez’s website and the Green Party plan both call for the US to move to 100% clean energy, with zero net emissions, by 2030. Cuomo’s plan calls for 100% of NY power generation to be carbon-free by 2040, and also calls for plans for overall carbon neutrality at an unspecified date. (In 2016, according to the EPA, electricity generation was the source of 28% of US carbon emissions.) The environmentalists’ letter calls for 100% renewable energy production throughout the nation by 2035.  

Many Green New Deal proposals plan to meet these goals through massive investments in renewable energy production and energy efficiency, including upgrades to buildings and to the transportation grid. The Ocasio-Cortez and Green Party proposals also call for changes in the US agricultural system, which is a significant generator of greenhouse gas emissions: Ocasio-Cortez writes about localizing food production systems, and the Green Party also calls for the elimination of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides. Both groups also speak of the importance of investing in small-scale local businesses and co-ops in other industries.

The Green Party plan and the environmentalists’ letter explicitly exclude nuclear power from their definition of acceptable energy sources, but nuclear power remains a contested issue among some advocates of a Green New Deal. Some advocates say that nuclear power is a necessary stopgap because renewable energy production cannot be scaled up fast enough to allow fossil fuel generation to scale down in time to prevent climate catastrophe; others point to the hazardous waste generated by nuclear production and the risk of lethal accidents.

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

Like the UN Global Green New Deal, the US Green New Deal is concerned with alleviating poverty and working toward economic justice as well as slowing climate change. Impoverished communities tend to suffer most from pollution and the health problems it brings; some of them have also depended on highly polluting extractive industries for their employment base. Many different Green New Deal plans mandate input from and funding to these vulnerable communities. New York’s plan sets aside money to help communities who have depended on conventional power generation transition to clean energy jobs.  Green New Deal proposals also require input from tribal authorities, recognizing the needs of their communities and the insights they offer. 

Some versions of the Green New Deal—including Ocasio-Cortez’s draft plan and the Green Party platform—call for full employment and a government guarantee of living-wage jobs for any worker who wants employment. The Green Party specifies that such jobs must be offered in human services fields like child care and elder care as well as in construction and energy production, so that people with varying levels of physical strength can find work. Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal plan does not guarantee employment but does set aside funds for workforce development to help people qualify for the jobs required by the new energy economy; it also includes wage guarantees for those workers. 

Whether or not there is a legal mandate for full employment, the green energy transition is likely to create jobs. In the short term, upgrading existing buildings and transportation infrastructures for greater efficiency will be a massive and labor-intensive project. In the long term, a 2014 UK study concluded, “there is a reasonable degree of evidence that in general, renewable energy and energy efficiency are more labor-intensive in terms of electricity produced than either coal- or gas-fired power plants.” A transition to more small-scale local agriculture would also require more human labor and less fossil fuel.  

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

Ocasio-Cortez’s version of the Green New Deal also calls for social supports detached from employment, including basic income programs and universal health care. Many of her fellow Democrats at the national level who support some type of Green New Deal are also supportive of Medicare-for-all or some other expansion of publicly funded health care. In New York, Cuomo has dismissed single-payer health care as impossibly expensive, though NY offers generous Medicaid benefits.

Many critics of the Green New Deal in its several incarnations are focused on questions of how much it will cost and where the money is to come from. The Green Party points out that continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to increased spending on disaster relief (as climate change intensifies hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms) and health care (as people require treatment for illnesses caused by pollution and extreme temperatures as well as for natural-disaster-induced injuries.) They also propose halving the military budget (pointing out that US military spending far exceeds that of any other nation, and suggesting that, without the demand for access to foreign sources of fossil fuels, we’d have much less incentive to fight wars) and sharply increasing taxation on the wealthiest Americans. Ocasio-Cortez and some of the Democrats who hold with her also back tax increases for the wealthiest. 

For now there is no single clear and authoritative version of the Green New Deal: the Green Party is not in power anywhere, Governor Cuomo’s New Deal plan will have to be approved by the state legislature (which is already considering a somewhat different climate-mitigation bill with some New Deal overlaps), and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey are now working out a Green New Deal bill to present to Congress.  But the national dialogue has broadened to take in the possibility of transformative change in the face of crisis. The answers may not be clear yet, but at least the vital questions are being considered.  

The Polar Vortex Doesn't Disprove Climate Change and Here's Why

Over the past couple days, many of us in the Midwest have been hunkering down and bundling up as we’ve been walloped by a  “polar vortex”, a mass of arctic air which dipped unusually far southward and brought with it temperatures  in the -20s (and wind-chills in the -60s!). Young people from Minnesota to Illinois to Michigan experienced a level of cold they had never felt before; in locations throughout the upper Midwest, the thermometers have not dropped so low in over a generation

Along with the actual vortex, however, came a front of tweets and social media posts claiming that the deep freeze was proof (proof!) that climate change was a fraud. Of course, posts like these reveal much more about their authors than they do about climate change. If such declarations are proof of anything, it is that their posters either lack a basic understanding of what climate change means or else are being deliberately misleading. Nothing about the theory of climate change suggests that the Midwest (or anywhere else) can’t receive a spell of cold, even record-breaking, weather. 

snowstorm-on-the-highway-during-the-rush-hour-PMYGJAG.jpg

Often ignored or misunderstood by those calling foul on climate change is the key distinction between climate and weather. NOAA’s website does an excellent job outlining this distinction, “Whereas weather refers to short-term changes in the atmosphere, climate describes what the weather is like over a long period of time in a specific area.” Whether includes your day-to-day phenomenon – your daily, hourly or even minutely changes in temperature, precipitation, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure and more. Climate refers to the general, long-term characteristics of a region. 

For example, you might describe California’s Death Valley’s climate as very dry and extremely hot; that doesn’t mean that it never rains in Death Valley, it just means that, on average over time, Death Valley has experiences high temperatures and low rates of precipitation. Accordingly, a rainy day in Death Valley wouldn’t prompt us to reclassify the area’s climate, it would, rather, be considered unusual or rare weather event. If, on the other hand, Death Valley started experiencing much more rain for months or years, then we’d have to think about reclassifying its climate. 

When we zooming out to a global scale, we find that a cold couple of days in the Midwest tells us bupkis about the general trends of the Earth’s climate. The polar vortex is a weather event (and it is one that, due to climate change’s disruptive impact on the polar jet stream, might actually become more likely as the planet heats up). When we look at long-term, global data, we see a much clearer picture of where the climate is heading. Global average temperatures have been steadily rising for over a century, and the five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010, and climate scientists predict continued and accelerating warming to the tune of at least several degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

This bigger picture might be tough to focus on for those of us currently freezing our tuchuses off, but we should try to not let the weather – and erroneous tweets about the weather – distract us.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Helps Raise $340,000 for Trans Youth via Twitch

In a recent Twitch livestream, the newly elected Democratic congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped raise over $340,000 for trans youth in partnership with a streamer popular on the platform. One might not immediately think of a congressperson in the same thought as a livestream platform known to host gaming content, but it gives insight into what the future of American politics holds. The newly elected Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t been wasting any time modernizing her party- in addition to the livestream fundraiser, the representative from New York has also been holding social media boot camps for legacy Democrats.

While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to almost ubiquitous prominence as of late, you might be less familiar with Twitch. Twitch.tv is the current place for gamers who want to join thousands of people all over the world who broadcast themselves playing their favorite games or even just talking. Streamers can monetize their output, and some including the most notable example, ‘Ninja,’ have gone on to earn millions of dollars in ad revenue and gifts from their subscribers. The platform as of recent has been expanding into fundraising for nonprofits.

Harry Brewis is a rising star of the Twitch platform, and like many streamers dedicates certain broadcasts and their proceeds to benefit charity. So when outrage over government funding a UK based organization that supports Transgender youth called Mermaids led to that funding being withdrawn, he realized he could use his fame to make things right. Little did he know that his play-thru of the Nintendo classic Donkey Kong 64 would not only generate well over $300,000 for the organization, it would also have a special visitor.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and her time on the broadcast just went to show how in touch she is with her constituents. During her time there she conversed with Brewis about the importance of fighting trans discrimination and how it stands as a driving force behind income inequality. She stressed the importance of his work and the difference he was making and made effective use of her fame and ability to intelligently connect with her community without becoming overbearing or trying to take the focus off of the work Brewis was doing.

She even spent some time chatting with the broadcaster and her fellow viewers about the N64 platform, as well as sharing that one of her favorite games on the platform was Pokemon Snap!. It was remarked that she was friendly, conversational, and genuinely engaged with the community in a way that other politicians just haven’t been able to match.

The importance of Ocasio-Cortez’s work and her ability to connect to the community cannot be understated, and it’s a primary reason that so many of her opponents are nervous. From the moment she took office she’s been under fire for her youth, enthusiasm, and free spirit. These same traits, combined with her competence, charisma, and unrelenting drive to fight for her cause, are what make her a force to be reckoned with, and one that the people on the hill are utterly unprepared to manage.

You can learn more about Mermaids here.

GoFundMe’s Campaign to Pay Workers Affected by the Government Shutdown

On December 22, 2018, the United States’ government shutdown indefinitely. As of writing this, the government has been shutdown for 34 days, making it the longest running government shutdown in United States history. While Senators are still being paid during the halt, roughly 800,000 federal employees don’t get to share in that luck, and have been going without pay for as long as the lapse in government.

In response to this, the people behind the crowdfunding site GoFundMe have set up a campaign to help alleviate the financial burden placed on now-unpaid government workers. As of writing, the campaign has raised $343,629 set to be distributed directly to the employees affected.

“The money raised on this GoFundMe will be distributed to nonprofit organizations across the country that are offering general relief to government workers, including but not limited to, food, counseling, and housing support.” -GoFundMe

The organization plans to release a list of all of the nonprofits that they plan to distribute the funds to, but in the meantime have announced that they are partnering with the nonprofit Direct Impact Fund.

Since the federal workers affected by the government shutdown began missing paychecks, stories have been surfacing about the real world harm that an ambiguous sounding “government shutdown” is having. Stories of government employees close to eviction and struggling to purchase daily essentials are becoming commonplace. While GoFundMe’s campaign won’t pay everyone’s rent or feed every employee for the foreseeable duration, it is good to see the outpour of support for these people who are caught up in a political moment.

So far, a bill has passed the House to open the government back up and the Senate is currently working on a plan of their own. Because of the dense political gridlock surrounding the issue of the shutdown, it isn’t necessarily clear when the government will re-open. But until then, it is important to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of real people being deeply affected by what is currently a political standoff.

You can find the campaign here.

What Would Jesus Do: The 90th Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. – one of the greatest leaders in American history – for his role in the civil rights movement. As a young African American woman, I admire him greatly and not just for his social activism, but also for how he used religion to advocate for peace, especially during a time when it would have been easy to forsake God altogether.

Source:  The White House

I recently spoke with Sarah Azaransky, author of This Worldwide Struggle: Religion and the International Roots of the Civil Rights Movement and assistant professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. We discussed how Dr. King used religion as a platform to transform the American social landscape and how he relied on different religious teachings to build a worldwide connection among people of different backgrounds.

I consider myself a devout Catholic – one who prays frequently, attends mass every Sunday and believes that yes, there is life after death. I understand religion, especially the Catholic Church, with its misdeeds and missteps, can alienate even the most faithful followers. However, I also believe part of what makes religion – not just Catholicism – worthwhile is that when used to uplift and not condemn, it has the ability to make us treat each other the way we want to be treated – regardless of race or social class.

It’s no secret that Dr. King was inspired by Gandhi as he and his wife, Coretta, traveled to India to study the activist’s philosophy in 1959. Moreover, Dr. King wanted to see how he, a Christian, could learn from other non-Christian traditions.

“It’s what we call inter-religious receptivity,” Sarah tells me. “That takes a special kind of humility and modesty. So when we think about the role religion can play in movements today, it’s about learning critical inter-religious engagement that takes religious differences seriously and helps us learn from other people.”

Source:  NBC

Source: NBC

“It has to involve that critical attention to other religious traditions and for Christians especially, for us to recognize Christian privilege. We’ve been at war for almost 20 years with countries that are majority Muslim. What does that mean?”

When we think about religion working in social movements today, the solution is recognizing traditional Christian-focused power dynamics and uncovering ways to shift the power with non-Christian religions. This was central to Dr. King’s success in intertwining religion with social advocacy.

In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, King cites Jewish and Christian theologians as a means to fight back against the injustice he faced at the hands of people using religion to propagate separation, not inclusion. He says:

“Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an ‘I it’ relationship for an ‘I thou’ relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation.”

Source:  MoMA

Source: MoMA

Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.”

“In this moment, he’s using the very best of what he knows and showing it in practice by willing to be imprisoned and saying ‘you clergy, you white Americans, you claim to have the authority of the law and the authority of religious traditions, and I’m telling you that not only do I know them as well as you do but more importantly, they are my traditions too, and I understand them better than you do because I am showing you how they work,’” Sarah says.

“The Letter From a Birmingham Jail is the perfect example of his career, showing Americans that segregation is not only unconstitutional but morally wrong as well,” she adds. 

In light of years-long sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, I question how people asserting so-called Christian beliefs can commit vile acts, while also claiming to practice His teachings. I understand that humankind is not without sin or fault, but using God as a means to justify despicable behavior will forever be one of the greatest tragedies of the Church. However, the same juxtaposition occurred with slavery and the civil rights movement, where traditional religion was used to justify inequality.

And as more and more people leave behind religion altogether, the question becomes, at what point do we know when to claim the teachings within the tradition versus when to leave the tradition. But there’s another option, one Dr. King chose, and that’s making new traditions so religion can stake its claim as a healer and unifier because, as Dr. King says in a 1959 speech, the “worldwide struggle” doesn’t apply to one group of people.

And in a real sense what we are trying to do in the South and in the United States is a part of this worldwide struggle for freedom and human dignity. Our struggle is not an isolated struggle; it is not a detached struggle, but it is a part of 1959 the worldwide revolution for freedom and justice.”

“We are not sitting here detached, as I said, but we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. So we are concerned about what is happening in Africa and what is happening in Asia because we are a part of this whole movement.”

“And we want Mr. Mboya to know, as he prepares to go back to Africa, that we go back with him in spirit and with our moral support and even with our financial support. Certainly injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And so long as problems exist in Africa, or in Asia, or in any section of the United States, we must be concerned about it.”

Then and now, Jesus would agree.

Cover image by George Conklin

Only 9% of Americans Actively Deny Climate Change

According to recent findings from Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, only 9% of Americans are actively dismissive of climate change. This is a part of a study that broke American sentiment on climate change into six Americas: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, Dismissive. Breaking down the findings of this study, the researchers found that while 9% of Americans deny climate change- 91% of Americans fall into the spectrum of either being gravely worried about climate change to aware of climate change (but not thinking it is a big problem).

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

This is a massive revelation, because that means that 91% of the United States is either aware of the problem or at the very least able to be convinced of the problem at hand. Even more encouraging is that 72% of United States citizens fall into categories that believe climate change science, and are motivated to do something.

This is a departure from the popularized notion that climate change is strictly a party line political issue. While opinions on climate change are a strong predictor or a single person’s political beliefs, no single party in the United States has 72% of the population to count as party members. This means that there is an inherent blending of political ideology within those who are aware that climate change is happening, and are motivated to do something about it.

While the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has been a deep enemy of environmental causes as evidenced by his willingness to gut the sizes of national parks, refusal to switch from coal to renewable energy, reintroduction of asbestos, etc., it is worth noting that his actions on the environment don’t necessarily align with the sentiments held by the rest of his party.

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

This shows up in further graphs where researchers asked participants how they would vote if a candidate actively opposed environmental regulation. The majority of respondents in the “worried about climate change” groups indicated that they would vote against a candidate who was anti-environment. Predictably, the group that actively denies climate science indicated that they would vote in favor of a candidate who was anti-environment. Interestingly enough though, in the groups that are either “disengaged” or “doubtful,” respondents indicated that they didn’t care whether the candidate was pro or against climate action.

This means that not only do the majority of Americans believe in climate science, but even those who might not yet tapped into climate findings are still able to be convinced. Only the 9% of Americans that are actively denying climate change and would support a candidate that was anti climate action, are the ones who are holding back climate progress.

This should inform how those who are pro climate action interact with those who they perceive to be anti climate action. In our current political climate where issues are becoming polarized to the ends of a bifurcated political system, it is rare to find an issue- and one that has already been deeply polarized, that can actually serve as a neutral ground in which to have constructive conversation. According to Yale’s findings, the environment is something that is important to most people, regardless of political affiliation, and if we engage with one another from that standpoint, we might be able to make sure that the 9% of deniers don’t halt 100% of climate progress.

Andy Warhol Foundation Expands Grant Program to Cleveland and Denver

For budding artists and their communities, getting a foot in the door can be difficult. There is no set and defined pathway for an artist to become successful and until artists figure out how to monetize their work, money can often be a barrier to entry for artists who haven’t yet had their first commission or big sale. Fortunately for Cleveland and Denver area baristas with dreams of making it in the art world, the Andy Warhol Foundation is expanding their grant writing program to their cities!

Artists and art communities in the Cleveland and Denver area now have the opportunity to apply for grants provided by the Andy Warhol foundation for the Visual Arts. The foundation’s regranting program has a reputation for focusing on small artists and collectives that may otherwise fall under the radar.

There are currently twelve of these programs, located in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Portland, and now thanks to the recent expansion, Cleveland and Denver too.

Grants are available for as much as $10,000. These grants help small artists and communities who might otherwise be unable to complete their projects. An example of this is the, “A Color Removed” project. It focuses on removing the color orange from Cleveland. While this may not make sense to the average person, it is really a conversation about deconstructing symbols (orange is a symbol for safety) and coming up with new ways to make a safer city.

The grants have also helped small art communities pay rent, purchase supplies, throw gallery events, put down new sidewalks, grant wheelchair access, and much more. These grants are vital to artists who might not be focused on the high profile, attention getting exhibits that most grants tend to favor.

The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts plans to distribute $1.4 million to various programs. Most of the money will go towards grants, but a significant amount will also go to the programs doing the regranting, in order to pay for overhead and general outreach.

The Regional Regranting Program has been around a surprisingly long time. The program has been ongoing since 2007, and has so far delivered over 6.4 million dollars to various organizations. $3.6 million of this provided direct support to as many as 848 artist projects.

The money has brought attention to many small scale artists, and put a spotlight on topics as unique as the opioid epidemic among commercial fishermen, topics that might never have been noticed without these art projects to draw attention to them.

Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, had this to say about the project, “Informal experimental artistic practice comprises the majority of visual arts activity in this country, yet is often overlooked and lacks existing mechanisms for funding, which tend to favor high profile exhibitions at large institutions. We are confident that the expansion of the program and the reinstatement of The Grit Fund will introduce many new innovative and public-facing artist projects into the grassroots arts communities of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Denver.”

Thanks to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts artists in the Cleveland and Denver area can now begin to imagine the possibilities of increasing the scale of their work as well as take advantage of an opportunity to sustain the work that they have already been doing. Either way, the program is guaranteed to further its positive impact with this planned expansion.

You can learn more about the Andy Warhol Foundation here.

There’s Nothing Daniella Mazzio Can’t Do

If you haven’t heard of Daniella Mazzio, a 23-year-old artist living in Chicago, you should consider fixing that. A DePaul University graduate and trained theatre, film and performance artist, her work has been featured at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and YesFest at the Elmhurst Art Museum to name a few. 

In November 2016 she created a sketch, Film Revue, based on famous Oscar-winning films and a month later, she premiered her one-act play boxes at Prop Thtr. She is currently working on her play, Polyanna but her “baby” as she describes is her comedic variety show she co-developed with fellow artists titled ‘Cago!. 

Her love for art began when she was around eight years, mostly due to her parents whom she says are the “pop culture king and queen of the Chicago suburbs.” Her dad is a TV, movie and music buff and her mom is a visual artist who paints and sketches. 

I can tell when she talks about her parents that she has a great admiration for them, which was perhaps why art has become something for her that “just makes sense,” especially when it comes to working within different mediums. 

As an artist and comedian, Daniella says she’s glad her profession brings people joy

As an artist and comedian, Daniella says she’s glad her profession brings people joy

“I’ve never understood why people limit themselves within art,” she says. “That causes conflicts and ego because you don’t have an understanding of every field. Why wouldn’t you learn as much as you can to expand what you do?”

Since she started working toward diversifying her craft, it has become clear that comedy has become the medium she finds the most rewarding. “Comedy consistently makes me the happiest,” she says. “It [comedy] came when I didn’t have a plan. It fulfills me in a way other things don’t. I’m just fortunate that it’s working out.” 

And while it was her curiosity that drove her to explore comedy, another part of it was the “institutional” discrimination in theatre. Daniella says she’s fortunate to not have dealt with it directly but she still acknowledges that as women in the field, it can be hard to get your big break. 

“I look at people who get booked and a lot of them are white men,” she says. “It’s hard not to have that sinking feeling because as a woman you either have to be amazing or you’re out whereas you can be an adequate white man and get booked – that tells me something is going on.”

But that hasn’t stopped her. In fact, nothing seems to slow her down but rather propel her to create content drawn from real-life experiences – no matter the topic. 

In October 2017, Daniella was diagnosed with depression after a “close brush with suicide,” which she describes as a fragile position where she didn’t trust that she wouldn’t hurt herself. Three months prior to the diagnosis she was sexually assaulted. 

Daniella tells me she hates calling it “rape” because the situation wasn’t violent but she also recognizes that lack of consent and the betrayal of trust by someone who was a close friend at the time. 

“The bullet point it always comes down to is I had told him no previously in the night, and he manipulated my trust so that I would continue spending the evening with him under the belief that nothing would happen. And when it did – the moment he betrayed that trust – I froze,” she says. 

“It's hard to call it rape because all I can see were all the things I did wrong,” she adds. “And when someone you care about does it, you don't want them to be a person who would do that to you. You want to protect them.” 

Daniella was diagnosed with depression last October but isn’t shy about sharing her real-life experiences

Daniella was diagnosed with depression last October but isn’t shy about sharing her real-life experiences

It took Daniella months of telling her friends, parents and therapist the story several times, often with her own bias of guilt, to finally come to terms with what had happened. 

“I would've rather just lived in the feeling of it being an awkward night than dealing with the emotional and physical violations, the loss of a friend, and the depression that followed. But the brain and the body know,” she says. 

“Talking about it was hard and intense, but after it was over I felt this gigantic weight gone. I had looked at the thing head on, and it couldn't have power over me anymore. It was my story.”

She shares her story through her art and says she’s a firm believer in making jokes about something that has happened to you because “it’s your narrative and your feelings.”

“I do jokes about rape culture. I have a whole song I wrote following the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings called Thank You (For Not Raping Me) that roasts the whole pedestal that we put men on for not being monsters,” she says. 

“I think it's pretty funny and it makes me happy when it lands. I think because I'm a comedian, it makes me want to be more honest about this sort of thing outside of my comedy just to remind people that I'm not just a two-dimensional jokester, that there are still serious and intimate qualities to me. I think that makes me better as an artist.”

Although she has explored different artistic mediums, Daniella says the one that makes her the happiest is comedy

Although she has explored different artistic mediums, Daniella says the one that makes her the happiest is comedy

“Depression, suicide, sexual assault – these things shouldn’t be silenced because they’re a part of my life,” she adds. But she admits, sometimes she struggles with how much people should see. To remedy showcasing too much of her personal life, she aims to portray these issues through a character and with every true story, she’ll add an untrue statement so it’s not “all me.”

But she is still very open to speaking about her depression and has “no shame” when it comes to her diagnosis. “I talk about it because it’s something people go through and it’s great I got help,” she says. “It’s another life thing that needed to happen.” 

She has dealt with it with medication, therapy and of course, art, which has managed to seep it’s way into our society through various forms, according to Daniella. 

“Memes are even art,” she says. “I want to go to grad school for media studies – the study of pop culture – because art is everywhere and I would love to trace how it’s changed and why we need it. Why was Britney Spears so important to us? Why are the Kardashians?” 

Daniella Mazzio, 23, is a trained theatre, film and performance artist in Chicago

Daniella Mazzio, 23, is a trained theatre, film and performance artist in Chicago

She doesn’t necessarily have the answer to that question but she does think art has the power to incite change – especially comedy as it was “birthed to political commentary.” 

I can’t help but ask if she’s a Saturday Night Live fan, which these days, has no shortage of political content to mock, but her answer surprises me. 

“I think SNL desensitized people to Trump and that’s how he got elected,” she says. “The intent is to just be relevant. Sure, it’s funny but like-minded work to like-minded people is not productive. If I’m doing liberal comedy, I don’t want to say the same thing every liberal believes. It doesn’t seem like the right way to bring about a conversation.”

So she’s not the biggest fan of the show but then again, she tells me her goal isn’t to be a comedian on SNL – it’s simply to make people laugh. 

“Art and comedy can make people feel better and if that’s the only impact – that’s noble,” she says. “I like the idea of people having fun for an hour. It’s an escape, a reprieve and a community where people can have fun and find commonalities. Is that change? I don’t know but it makes people feel good and that’s important to me.” 

Bringing people joy, if only fleeting makes what she does worthwhile but she hopes that through her art, she can dedicate herself to learning new things and “opening the paths that are untraveled” so she can grow not only as artist but as a person too.

“I would love to be a better person because one better person in the world is something more than we had before,” she says. “That’s more hours spent laughing, and more empathy in the universe. You can’t change the mind of hateful people but you can figure out how they got there and figure out a game plan to prevent it.”

“I’m still trying to find my voice,” she adds but it’s not really about her voice she explains. “If you’re a person of privilege then it’s about listening to those who aren’t. It’s about matching our society’s needs while creating a better society.” 

Can art make that happen? Leave it to Daniella to find out. 

California Cities Now Require 100% Electric Busses by 2029

California has yet again cemented themselves as a leader in the fight against climate change. Over the past few years they have enacted several forward thinking laws that have pushed their state to become a cleaner, more energy efficient location. California's Clean Air Agency has taken this even farther recently, by asking city transit agencies to make the change from fossil fuel driven buses to electric ones.

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Starting as early as 2023, transit must replace as much as 25% of their buses with electric. The amount will raise to 50% by 2026, and by the end of the decade, no transit company will be able to buy a bus that runs on fossil fuels such as diesel and gas.

Many cities have already begun to make these changes voluntarily. There are currently over 100 emission free buses on roads around California as we speak. These buses were purchased voluntarily, with no government mandates pushing the change.

The new rule won't include all buses in California. The mandate is for public transit only. School buses and privately owned buses will not be part of the change—for now anyway.

These changes to California's law did not come quickly or easily. Public transit is an important part of the natural gas industry, and losing the 5th largest economy in the world's transit will hurt their bottom line. These companies aren't the only ones that pushed back—some transit companies were against the changes too.

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Despite some who question the decision, the vote for accepting this mandate was unanimous. This may be in the hopes of stemming California's serious air quality issues. Several of California's cities have some of the worst air quality in the world, despite the many changes California has made to improve it.

The average transit bus can travel as much as 40,000 miles in a year, which is 4 times as much as the average car. It also consumes about 4 times as much gas per mile as the average car or truck. Combined, public transit is responsible for as much as 20% of the state’s transit related emissions, and this switch will remove as much as one million metric tons of carbon emissions from the air.

That's a huge amount for a relatively small change, and it could turn the tide for many smog choked cities around the state. Unfortunately, it doesn't come without a price. Emission free buses are significantly more expensive than traditional types. A normal, diesel powered bus costs about $500,000, a significant investment as it is. Cleaner burning natural gas buses costs $550,000 and electric buses can cost as much as $800,000.

While these initial costs are steep, they do cost less to run, and may pay for themselves over time. Until more of these buses are brought into daily use, it will be impossible to know for sure whether the buses are a good financial investment, even if there is no doubt they are a good investment for the future of our children, and for the environment.

Here’s a List of What Got Us Through 2018

While 2018 can generally be considered to be a Bad Year, there were still some things that brought some happiness to us. We asked our writers to consider their year and pick something that helped them get through the bad news of 2018, and hopefully they can help you do the same.

“Michelle Obama is a remarkable woman. I had the opportunity to see her
Wednesday night in Brooklyn, New York, as part of her book tour for Becoming.
Within 15 minutes of her coming out on stage, tears had welled up in my eyes.
Thinking back, I honestly can’t remember what she said that had made me so
emotional but now I realize it wasn’t what she had said – it was simply who she was
or rather, what she represents to every woman, young girl and person of color.
To me, she represents what hard work and motivation can get you. Michelle wasn’t
raised with a silver spoon but that never stopped her from accomplishing her goals
and setting new ones during the course of her life. To me, she represents a voice –
my voice – that deserves to be heard and whose story deserves to be told. To me,
she represents a future where society doesn’t ignore women but instead cherishes
them for all they have to offer.
This year has been filled with many memorable moments and experiences but
seeing Michelle speak has been one of the best moments of my life. And I’d like to
think that it wasn’t solely because I got to see her (and those boots!) but also
because I got to share it with a diverse room of people with a common appreciation
for who she is and what she represents – the promise of what could be.” -Chloe Castleberry

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“In Western Germany, less than an hours train ride from the bustling metropolitans of
Dusseldorf and Cologne, lies the biodynamic farm Hof zur Hellen. An idyllic and
enchanting place, I volunteered there for several weeks where I was welcomed into a
whole new world of weeding fields of cabbage, digging for potatoes, piling manure,
herding cows, and feeding pigs. I was astonished by how much I enjoyed the experience: the satisfaction at the end of a hard day’s work, the gratification of holding the literal fruits of your labor in the palm of your hand, the encounters with fellow volunteers from around the world, the knowledge and dedication of the workers. Through a core group of hard-working, open-minded, and devoted individuals, Hof zur Hellen is dedicated to the raising of animals and the growing of crops in an ecologically-sound and environmentally-friendly manner. It stands as a staple within its community, providing a high quality organic food source within the region. During my time there, I was impressed and inspired not only by its sustainable farming practices and its impact on the local level, but also by the hospitality, warmth, and trust of the people who live and work there. As 2018 draws to a close, my singular experience at Hof zur Hellen stands out as a reminder of the painstaking labor carried out by those who care about making a difference in the community and I’m grateful to have been a part of those who are committed to working for positive change.” -Emily Cai

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"2018 has been a dire year for the climate. Emissions have risen. Extreme weather hammered home the fact that climate change is a grim reality. As for halting it, there is a window of opportunity still just open. As it closes, the inaction of our most powerful governments inspires despair among scientists and citizens alike. 
But hope is not gone. Not yet.
2018 has seen an idea dawn in American government: a Green New Deal. The New Deal of our grandparents restored the Dust Bowl, the most severe environmental disaster the U.S. had ever encountered, during the worst financial collapse in history. The Green New Deal, backed by over 30 members of the House of Representatives, could see our nation boom with solar energy jobs as it takes the lead against climate change. 
Americans beat the last great crisis with tomato gardens, tin cans, and grit. Now, the nation clamors for action. Whether through civil disobedience or bicycle rebellion, citizens demand to live green. Nobody pretends that the change will be easy. Nothing meaningful ever is. In the words of a famous riveter, we can do it. With our leaders on our side, nothing is impossible.
The Green New Deal is still just a proposal, the seed of the mighty change that must occur if we are to save our world. 2018 will be remembered as the year that seed began to sprout. A movement has begun to grow. Let’s make it strong this upcoming year." - Anna Gooding-Call

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“While 2018 was officially deemed by most as the the worst possible timeline, the pop culture arena was the reprieve we all needed: enter Ariana Grande. The light, indeed, is coming to bring back everything the darkness stole, and no other light shone brighter than Grande as she came to collect her things. From securing a number one album, three top 10 hits, her first number one single, and two Grammy nominations, Grande remerged on the scene with “No Tears Left to Cry” a soulful, yet upbeat single eulogizing her Manchester Arena concert where, just a year prior, a suicide bombing killed 23 concertgoers while wounding 139 others. From terrorist attacks to enduring the beginning and ending of her engagement with SNL comedian Pete Davidson and the untimely death of her ex-boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, after the dissolution of their relationship six months prior, this past year has been increasingly challenging for the 25-year-old songstress. Despite the hardships however, through her music she was able to excel through the pain and revel in this moment as Billboard’s official Woman of The Year where she ends 2018 still atop the charts with her record-breaking smash hit, “Thank U, Next.” With over 130 million followers, I think it’s fair to say we all can’t wait to see what’s next for Grande.” -Brandon Sams

"In 2018, I put the brakes on my all-consuming career and focused on what we oddly refer to as "the little things". In short, I started spending time enjoying life. This, in turn, has made me a more pleasant person to be around (or so I’m told). Following are some of the choices I made which have greatly improved my existence, in no particular order:
I studied the philosophers - from Socrates to Simone de Beauvoir.
I began going on long walks - and really taking in the beauty our planet provides us. 
I researched vegan nutrition, became a soup-making expert, and committed to (mostly) eating well.
I joined a weekly movie outing with friends.
I unwisely made a declaration to said friends that I would start remembering the names of actors and actresses’. (I failed miserably). I found a houseplant that is efficient at recycling indoor air, can survive on minimal sunlight, and is not toxic to cats or dogs (I’m looking at you, Boston Fern).
I nearly killed that plant and then brought it back to life, with a grow-light...and appropriate watering. 
I attended parties, dinners, and concerts – alone(!).
I spent time with the elderly – specifically my 87-year-old Grandmother and my 14-year-old Labrador Retriever.
I started a weekly board-game night with my family.
And I became inspired by my two-year-old nephew to improve my Spanish.
In 2018, I chose to engage with the world around me. And that just may be the best decision I've ever made.” -Jessica Jentz

“This year, more than ever, it seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but bad news. The biggest respite from this never-ending tidal wave of misery and misfortune came in an unexpected form: Paddington 2. For one hour and forty-five minutes, the adventures of this adorable little Peruvian bear and his quintessentially British family whisked me away from all my troubles and firmly transplanted me in a world where, as Paddington says, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” This is no ordinary children’s movie. It’s thoroughly delightful without ever veering into saccharine territory, and Paddington’s wacky misadventures were compelling enough to keep me intrigued. (Spoiler alert: Paddington gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit, gets sentenced to prison, transforms the prison into a Wes Anderson-esque marmalade paradise, and then breaks out of said prison.) Plus, the sight of Paddington’s fuzzy little face was so ridiculously cute that it literally made my eyes well up with tears on multiple occasions. Although it may seem silly, I am completely and utterly enamored with the world of Paddington 2. It was an enduring bright spot in an otherwise chaotic and difficult year, and its inexhaustible optimism and determination is something that we can all hope to emulate in the years to come.” -Caroline Hsu

"Let’s start with Super Bowl 52 between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Looking at this game on paper and based on historical performances between both teams involved many would say the Patriots would win this match up. After 4 quarters of exciting football, the Eagles walked away victorious 41-33. Next, to the ice where the Washington Capitals made their second Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years. They went to battle against the first-year expansion team; Las Vegas Knights. Furthermore, after five matches on the ice the Washington Capitals brought the Stanley Cup back to the nation’s capital. 
From the ice to the hardwood, in one of the most dominating performances the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors won their third title in four years, allowing them to make their case as a modern-day dynasty. 
Fast forward to October where another sweep almost occurred between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a long-drawn game three of 18 innings and seven hours and twenty minutes of play. The Boston Red Sox, claimed the World Series in five games. 
To round out the year the MLS Cup, Atlanta United beat the Portland Timbers in strategic but dominating fashion 2 -0, after only being in the MLS for only two seasons I hope this 2018 major league sports breakdown gives your insight and an idea of what’s to come soon of the sports world.” -Corey James

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.