Activism

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

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

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

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

(Photo:  LA Opinion )

(Photo: LA Opinion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

Learn more at stopabortionbans.org

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

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

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

Youth Climate Strike Are Only Gaining Momentum

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

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

The History of the Youth Climate Strike

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

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

Striking From School

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

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

A New Organization

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

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Organization

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

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

Leadership

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

Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

Intersectionality

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

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via Flickr

Actions

The March 15th Strike

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

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

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

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

Youth Climate Strike in London via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in London via Flickr

What’s Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Colleges Fund Fossil Fuels: Oil and Gas Divestment Explained

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

But what is divestment? And how does it work?

What is Divestment?

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

The History Of A Campus-Based Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Divestment Is A Good Strategy

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

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

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

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

Extinction Rebellion Finds Roots in Chicago's Climate Activist Community

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

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

History

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

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

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

Demands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regenerative Culture

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

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

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

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

Strategy

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

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

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

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

Organization

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

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

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

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

Funding

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

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

Past Events

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

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

Going Forward

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

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

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

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

The Equality Act Aims to Ensure Equal Rights for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What If We All Just Went on Strike

On March 15, 2019 over 1.5 million people across Earth went on strike to demand climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future campaign, people in 125 countries and all seven continents united to call for politicians and those in power to make real steps towards combating climate change. According to 350.org, the global action is the largest climate demonstration in history, and the organizers of the strike say this is just the beginning.

On March 15, 2019 over 1.5 million people across Earth went on strike to demand climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future campaign, people in 125 countries and all seven continents united to call for politicians and those in power to make real steps towards combating climate change. According to 350.org, the global action is the largest climate demonstration in history, and the organizers of the strike say this is just the beginning.

“The March 15 strike is not the end of us — it’s just the beginning. There are some past climate movements that lost momentum after their initial big events, and we want to make sure that that is not something that can be said about us. We want to make sure that once we have this event, the movement doesn’t stop and in fact gets even stronger with our momentum. We have some long-term plans too. We’ve been contacted by the U.N to potentially speak at the climate summit in September of 2019. We will also continue to grow our movement, from the national and local scale to the international scale, and collaborate with other movements. We want to make sure that we are heard and seen by the media, by the regular bystander, by everybody.”
-
Maddy Fernands, National Press Director of Youth Climate Strike

Chicago, Il strike held in Federal Plaza

Chicago, Il strike held in Federal Plaza

Cutting Class for Climate; Maddy Fernands Isn't Wasting Any Time

In Kind: Thanks for talking to me today! So you’re already on strike?

Maddy Fernands: Yes. I’m on strike right now at Minnesota Capital and it’s my second consecutive Friday striking. It’s really exciting. We’re leading up to the 15th of March and it will be big.

I: So March 15 is really a culmination of activity. What’s that been like?

M: The movement was started by Greta Thunberg in Sweden. She struck at the Swedish Parliament every Friday starting in August. That’s how she started the organization Fridays for Future. She recognized the fact that the Paris climate agreement and COP24 weren’t successful in accurately addressing the magnitude of climate change, or really addressing it at all. They were just more fluff added to the catastrophic policy failure of inaction. Since she started to strike she has grown into an international superstar for her denouncement of the U.N., so now people all over the world, in almost every country, are striking with her. The weekly strikes happen on Fridays and our big strike will take place on the 15th of March in solidarity with Greta and all the other strikers for climate action.

I: What kind of participation have you been seeing? Thousands of people? Millions?

M: Striking every Friday is hard for a lot of people because they have to miss school. I think some people make that sacrifice because they know that climate action is the necessity. What purpose will education serve if we don’t have a future to use it in? So in terms of the turnout regularly, I’d say that there’s still a lot of people who come out every week. On March 15th, turnout is likely to be into the millions. We are preparing for that event with mass participation in mind because we want it to be one big show, a big demonstration that people want climate action to happen now. I think that the strike on the 15th will be a really great time to show that.

I: Have you been seeing a lot of support from the adults in your life?

M: Yeah. But I think that adults, because they created this climate crisis, have a lack of urgency about climate change. It just hasn’t been the biggest issue of their life. On the other hand, when it comes to us young people, climate change has been here for our whole lives. I don’t remember a time when climate change wasn’t on my mind. From my perspective, it has always been one of the biggest problems facing humanity. I feel like climate change is this whole looming cloud, but that urgency is something that adults do not experience. I think that is why there’s not a lot of action occurring against climate change. That is why we need as many young people as possible to inform that urgency and make sure that is felt. Dianne Feinstein dismissed so many young people by saying that she knew better, that everything she’s already doing is sufficient when it truly is not. It’s hard for a lot of adults who engage the fact that what they’re currently doing is not sufficient.

I: Are you thinking about policy changes right now, leveraging this movement to get adults to change the law?

M: I think one of the main goals of our movement is to change the conversation around climate change. The Green New Deal has done a really good job of moving the conversation from what is supposedly politically possible to what is necessary, because what is necessary should always be at the top of the policy list. A more just, safe, happy, and thriving world should be our priority. I think with this strike we’re demonstrating that climate action is not just politically possible, but that if you don’t support us in this fight against climate change we will vote you out. We as young people can put pressure on politicians. One of our biggest asks right now is the Green New Deal. Our movement supports that resolutions because of what it stands for, not necessarily as it’s currently written. Right now it’s not specific enough to address all the inequities that come with climate change. However, we have a lot of outlines as to what a better policy solution might be. Together, we’re working toward the goal of having an equitable transition to a renewable economy under the IPCC guidelines.

I: Have you had any problems organizing at scale and across international boundaries?

M: This movement has changed my perspective about what organizing means. Before I was involved in the climate strike I was involved in other climate action, and I’m currently a part of Minnesota Can’t Wait, a statewide group that is currently drafting up legislation - not a resolution -  containing actual legal language for a Minnesota Green New Deal. But when it comes to national and international organizing, I honestly have never experienced the amount of interest that the youth climate strike has gotten. People care about the strikes and we’ve gotten picked up by a lot of really major news organizations. A lot of people have taken notice. It’s really powerful on both the national and international scale. This movement has defied the odds and expectations for what is possible for young activists.

I: Do you feel like you owe anything to previous climate movements? 

M: I think that we need to recognize and acknowledge the fact that indigenous folks started and have always been the leaders and proponents of the climate movement. We can’t just whitewash this moment. It’s important to recognize the initial indigenous leadership and respect their leadership in the new movement, our movement. We should also acknowledge that there have been many successful movements, specifically those surrounding pipelines, that have we’re kind of going off of. For example, the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline and DAPL inspires us to bring that sort of people power to climate advocacy. Additionally, there’s a lot of youth movements that we think of as blueprints. March for our Lives was a very big influence because of how they were able to organize after a travesty and mobilize youth across the country. We want to do a similar thing when it comes to climate action and advocacy. It’s important that the youth is at the forefront of our movement because we feel the urgency of climate action. 

I: Are you doing any partnering, especially to make sure that the movement remains intersectional?

M: We’re partnering with a lot of organizations, including the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, and Earth Guardians. There are a bunch of different movements that have different viewpoints on climate change and do different things. We want to work together to make our movement more intersectional, more inclusive, and accessible to a bigger audience. 

I: How are you keeping the movement together financially?

M: We take two different forms of donations currently. There’s an online shop where you can purchase sustainable clothing that has US Youth Climate Strikes branding on it. Part of the proceeds go to our movement. We’re also fundraising currently through GoFundMe and have raised $6,000 so far [note: $10,406 as of publishing]. We’re going for $15,000 because striking is expensive. We’re also trying to get a stage at some of our bigger locations, like DC, NYC, and Miami, for the March 15 strike.

I: Are your parents involved at all?

M: It’s more of a youth movement. Our parents are supporting us in various other ways. For example, the mother of one of the other leaders of the youth climate strikes, Alexandria Villaseñor, is a graduate student at Columbia University. She studies climate, so she helps us a lot by talking about the basic climate science and connecting us to climate change experts. We have a lot of other adults who are on the sidelines, but it’s truly a youth-led movement.

I: How do you deal with climate anxiety? Do you do support people emotionally or count on them to show up prepared for the fight?

M: Climate anxiety is becoming pertinent to our movement. I have personally had very emotional experiences thinking about the problem because there is the potential for a very catastrophic future. It’s very scary in that aspect, but I think we need to remember the fact that we can still fight climate change. Our movement is trying to provide that support within our group by having conversations about our anger, frustration, and sadness when it comes to climate change. As we grow as a movement and develop more organizational structure, that will be a bigger part of what we do. Support is one of the most essential parts of what we want to do. To take action, you first need to not feel hopeless.

I: Does your movement try to talk to politicians who are resistant to climate action? Are you hoping that you’ll be able to vote them out once you reach voting age?

M: The reason that politicians are in opposition to climate action is not because of the will of the people. The majority of Americans believe in taking action on the climate. Politicians’ reasons have to do with the money of fossil fuel organizations and companies. Politicians are so deep in the pockets of fossil fuel corporations that they fail to see the will of the people. I think that is one of the main issues when it comes to legislative action on climate change. To solve that, I think we have to make it politically impossible not to act. If we make the will of the people strong enough, then we can fight the money from fossil fuel donors and we can make sure that politicians will feel the burn if they don't support climate action. I think we’ve seen that already in how all the the major Democratic Senate candidates have supported the Green New Deal. It has become politically bad for them to not do so. I think that is what our goal is: to make it so that climate action is bipartisan, necessary, and understood at the magnitude and scale that scientists describe to us. I think politicians will follow suit if the general public changes its mind and is very much in opposition to not acting. I think that’s already happening. We’re trying to change the mind of the general public by having strikes, by showing that young people are angry about how there’s no progress on climate change currently.

I: What role has social media played in your movement?

M: Social media has actually played one of the major roles in our movement. With young people, it’s really hard to do outreach any other way. Social media is a really great resource and we have some amazing people on our team. For example, on our branding team, we have Feli Charlemagne from Florida. He is amazing at graphic design. People outside the movement are interested in how we are able to be so professional and how we’ve organized so quickly. That’s one reason that it’s almost hard to stay away from our movement. People are looking into it because we’re making it a success. It’s likely that every state will have a strike of some kind on March 15. We’re trying to make sure that all young people have some kind of access to it, whether on social media or because we’ll have it in every single state. I think that young people really appreciate that. They appreciate being heard and I think that a lot of young people are particularly worried about the climate. Climate change belief and desire for action is a much higher priority when young people are polled. They feel that this is a time when they can express their feelings. I personally feel that this movement has given me and many of my peers a platform to show our anger and frustration and try to get something done.

I: Do you feel like you will continue mobilizing, especially as members of your movement become voters?

M: The March 15 strike is not the end of us - it’s just the beginning. There are some past climate movements that lost momentum after their initial big events, and we want to make sure that that is not something that can be said about us. We want to make sure that once we have this event, the movement doesn’t stop and in fact gets even stronger with our momentum. We have some long-term plans too. We’ve been contacted by the U.N to potentially speak at the climate summit in September of 2019. We will also continue to grow our movement, from the national and local scale to the international scale, and collaborate with other movements. We want to make sure that we are heard and seen by the media, by the regular bystander, by everybody.

I: Do you have any specific events coming up after March 15?

M: Yes! In early May there will be another international climate strike, so we’re going to try to get people out for that one as well. There’s a chance that this will be a recreation of the March 15 strike, but we want to give it a twist. When continuing momentum, it’s important to change the strategy to keep the attention of  the public's and the media. This first strike will just be a grassroots-organized strike. For the next one, we might do some sort of demonstration. I know that in New York City, they’ll be doing a die-in. After that, I think we’ll want to do something similar. We want the next strike to culminate our intersectionality and to use symbolism. It’s going to be bigger than ever, more important than ever, more urgent than ever. That’s our goal.

I: What do you see happening that gives you hope?

M: The Green New Deal and the fact that all of these grassroots climate groups are being heard is really powerful to me. The fact that the Green New Deal has become the center of the political landscape is something that’s amazing to me. I was there on Day 1 last November when the Sunrise Movement sat in Nancy Pelosi’s office. I was participating in Minnesota, but I was there at the beginning. They didn’t have momentum at all back then, and now they’ve grown it to an internationally known movement. I think that sort of power is brought to these movements and is given to them by the press. It’s powerful and hopeful because people are paying attention and they want to do something.

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

Why Universal College Tuition Programs are Really, Very, Good Ideas

A few decades ago, a college degree was a symbol of a sustained commitment to higher education, one that set you apart from the crowd on the job market and gave you a leg up against your non-college educated peers. However, in today’s increasingly competitive, increasingly globalized economy, a college education has become a prerequisite for many careers. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by next year, 65% of all American jobs will require at least a two-year associate’s degree, if not a four-year bachelor’s degree. Although many college graduates end up pursuing careers completely unrelated to their majors, some proof of post-high school education is an absolute necessity to get your foot in the door. Many high schoolers and their families are acutely aware of this educational imperative, and they’re willing to go to great lengths to secure a diploma that promises them a successful career, financial stability, and opportunities that non-college graduates will never have. 

Of course, this all-important diploma comes at a great cost. About 70% of all college graduates in the United States leave their colleges or universities with a significant amount of student debt. As of 2018, the total amount of student loan debt owed by American college graduates was almost $1.5 trillion. Averaged out among individual college grads, this means that the average college student graduates owing $37,172. This figure is up over $17,000 from the average individual student loan debt in 2005. Monthly student loan payments have increased accordingly, with the average monthly student loan payment reaching about $400 in 2016, almost double the average monthly student loan payment from 2005. As a consequence, economists expect the retirement age of current college students and recent college graduates to skyrocket. Currently, the social security retirement age in the United States falls between 65 years old and 66.5 years old, depending on a person’s specific birth year. New studies predict that the average college graduate of the Class of 2015 will have to defer their retirement until the age of 75 because of their student loan debt. As time goes by, the average amount of student debt that future college graduates accrue will likely increase. If current trends are anything to go by, it already has. In 1987, the average annual tuition cost of a public four-year institution was just $3,190 per year, adjusted for inflation. Thirty years later, that cost has tripled, reaching $9,970 per year. The average annual tuition for a private, nonprofit four-year institution in 1987 was $15,160. Now, it’s reached $34,470 per year. With each coming year, it becomes increasingly expensive to attend college, and the financial burden placed on college students and their families grows increasingly heavier. 

Students from low-income backgrounds are consistently at a distinct disadvantage throughout their college years. Although financial aid is available through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as work-study programs, publicly and privately-funded scholarships, and grants, these avenues are oftentimes still not enough to cover the exorbitant costs of tuition, room and board, and textbooks. Low-income students, defined by a total family annual income of less than $40,000 per year, often find themselves having to work additional part-time jobs in order to pay their tuition, and every hour spent taking classes, studying, and doing homework is an hour that could have been spent making money. These financial stresses can become a distraction from academics, leading to poorer performance in classes and defeating the purpose of attending college in the first place. Additionally, many low-income students opt to live at home and commute to campus, forgoing the costs of dorms and meal plans. However, although commuting to college can save thousands of dollars per year, it can also have adverse effects on a student’s overall college experience. Much of the value of college doesn’t exclusively come from the things a student learns in class — extracurricular clubs, internships, research programs, and social life are often centered around the college campus itself. These opportunities, which are crucial for networking, personal development, and resume-building, are more difficult to attain for commuter students. 

Colleges (rightly) claim that a degree is the key to upward financial mobility, a tantalizing prospect for anyone, but especially for low-income students. Ironically, the process of surviving and thriving in college is also the most difficult for those very same low-income students that universities purport to help. Of course, race also matters a great deal in the discussion around low-income students. Black, Hispanic, and Native American households are the most likely to classify as low-income, which means that their children are disproportionally affected by the struggles that befall low-income students in the United States. These students are placed in an impossible bind — without a college degree, their ability to land a solid career and obtain financial stability is significantly diminished. However, obtaining a college degree almost guarantees burdening themselves with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, which will likely take upwards of two decades to pay off. This conundrum is the birthplace of the fight for universal college tuition. It’s crucial that we level the playing field, allowing all students, regardless of their race or economic status, to enjoy the full spectrum of opportunities that college can offer. A program of universal college tuition makes college accessible for all students, allowing them to prove themselves based on their academic prowess, intelligence, curiosity, and creativity, not their families’ gross annual income. 

Although they may sound like a utopian pipe dream, universal college tuition programs are already being implemented in the United States and abroad. As of 2018, 17 states offer promise programs, which offer tuition-free scholarships to public college programs for qualifying low-income students. Of these 17 states, New York is the only one to offer tuition-free scholarships for both community colleges and participating public four-year universities. Outside of the United States, countries like Norway, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Mexico, and Brazil offer free tuition in their public universities, making a good education infinitely more accessible for all students. Although the sheer geographic size of the United States makes universal free tuition at all public universities a daunting challenge, we can still learn from these international universal tuition programs. If we can’t make higher education free, we should at least endeavor to make it much more accessible. 

Aside from offering personal growth opportunities to low-income students, investing in educational accessibility would also do the entire nation good. A 2015 study conducted at the University of Munich in Germany asserts that education may be the single biggest factor in a nation’s economic growth. When more people receive a good education, unemployment rates drop and income levels rise. Over generations, this causal relationship becomes bidirectional. Better-educated people are able to land better jobs with better pay, and are thus able to better educate their children, setting off a feedback loop of educational prowess and economic prosperity. In countries like China and Bangladesh, this feedback loop has caused a marked increase in GDP per capita, proving that improvements in education are crucial for nationwide economic growth. Although universal tuition might seem like a hefty investment, it absolutely will pay off.

At its heart, universal college tuition isn’t just about sending more students to college. A universal college tuition program helps mitigate systemic inequalities of class and race, allowing low-income students from all over the country to better their economic situation for generations to come. It ensures that bright, talented students aren’t at a disadvantage because of their families’ finances, and leads to greater diversity of thought and experience in business, tech, academia, and any other major industry you could possibly think of. At a national level, universal college tuition increases employment rates and income levels. When implemented correctly, it can even lift an entire nation’s GDP per capita. If we want to ensure our country’s continued economic prosperity, allowing people of all backgrounds to partake in the academic and career opportunities out there, investing in universal college tuition is an absolute must. 

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

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.

Hundreds of Companies Are Giving Employees Time Off to Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find a polling place near you.

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

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

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

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

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

uber

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

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

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

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

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

Find a polling place near you.

The History and Importance of National Coming Out Day

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

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

rainbow-flag-in-window-WKF9JAR.jpg

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

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

lgbt-lesbian-couple-moments-happiness-concept-PH9ACYZ.jpg

History

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

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

Founders

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

gay-couple-is-spending-time-together-PTAUYBP.jpg

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

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

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

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

lesbian-couple-cooking-in-the-kitchen-together-PZK2FXC.jpg

Today

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

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

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

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

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

newlywed-gay-couple-dancing-on-wedding-PUXPMW7.jpg

New York City:

Los Angeles:

Chicago:

Washington DC:

Philadelphia:

Phoenix:

San Antonio:

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

– Jason Collins, First Openly Gay Player in American Sports


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

Planned Parenthood's Latest Campaign Is Unstoppable

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

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

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

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

diverse-women-dancing-together-P9UP6TW.jpg

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

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

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

women-communication-dinner-together-concept-P9UUSS3.jpg

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

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

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

a-group-of-young-muslim-women-PYPCV73.jpg

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

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

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

women-with-american-flag-PQUWEZ7.jpg

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

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

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

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

NFL Protests: We Should All Be Kneeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Crosscut

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

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

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

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

Source: CNN

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

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

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

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

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

#MarchForOurLives, #ThisIsZeroHour, and How Youth Movements Are Saving Us

Effecting real change in this world is difficult, even when you are an adult with all the experience that goes along with it. When you are young, the road to change can be even more difficult. If you don’t have access to a car, can’t vote, or don’t have the security and freedom that can be afforded to you when you’re older, starting social movements can be logistically challenging.

Yet historically, young people have made some of the biggest impacts on the world. Malala Yousafzai is one such person. She blogged for the BBC about the Taliban and life under their rule, at great risk to herself. When she was just 15, she was shot in the head for it. She miraculously survived the injury, and in 2014 at the age of 17, she became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She now travels the world and speaks to groups of people on the importance of educating women, especially in countries where the majority of those who are illiterate are female.

Malala Yousafzai isn't the only youth to change the world for the better. It was a youth movement that started the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and a 15 year old boy who discovered a cheap way to test for pancreatic cancer. Even the massively attended and covered Women's March from 2017/8 felt like an older generation of protestors passing down the baton to a younger generation. In 2014, the youth were the ones represented as a majority in the Ferguson, MO protests that were in reaction to the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police. All over the world, the youth make a difference, and major youth movements are eliciting massive change as we speak.

December31_049.jpg
Jan2017_035.jpg

One of these movements is #MarchForOurLives, a campaign started by the students who were survivors of the Parkland shooting in February 2018, and currently being enacted by them all over the country. Young people who are fed up with mass shootings becoming an all too familiar reality, and the ease in which guns are available, are marching in major cities all across the US and demanding better gun control. Among the proposed actions are to reinstate funding to the CDC looking at gun violence as a health issue, ending the restrictions on the ATF, universal background checks, and a ban on high-capacity magazines. There are many more reasonable actions they want taken, and their efforts may well make a difference where adults have failed. 

The students involved will be driving from city to city in a campaign called #RoadToChange, and protesting gun violence in each one. They are also actively educating and registering people to vote at each stop. It is a powerful way to draw attention to the children who were shot and killed, afraid to go to school, and the much larger problem of guns in America. Protests so far have been held in 9 different states, and have made real progress. In Utah, organizers met with the Utah Gun Exchange, and reported on Twitter that they had a productive conversation with them.

The amount of people that Road to Change will be able to not only reach, but to be able to talk to and share ideas with face to face, is impossible to ignore. By listening to opposing viewpoints and making connections with the people most likely to protest change, #MarchForOurLives is well positioned to make a lasting impact on gun control.

Taking up another critical issue, #ThisIsZeroHour is a movement started by a 16 year old named Jamie Margolin. Jamie started Zero Hour due to her irritation with politicians who were standing by and pretending climate change did not exist. Already involved in a lawsuit against her home state, Washington, and their lack of effort to stop climate change, Jamie is no stranger to confrontation. She gathered her friends together to help her arrange a movement too big to be ignored.

Zero Hour is the fruit of their efforts. Their goal is to stage a massive protest, localized in Washington DC, but with sister marches nationwide. On July 21st, thousands of youth will march on the National Mall in protest to the insufficient attitude politicians have had toward climate change. The day before, they will be making art around the city in an effort to draw attention to their cause. These simple acts may be small by themselves, but as more and more youth gather, it makes a momentum that is very hard to ignore.

“I decided it was unfair that I can’t vote, I don’t get to choose who is in power, I’m too young to be in power, but I get to pay the price for the decisions that politicians make today. It’s not fair that I’m being left with this world that is falling apart.” -Jamie Margolin

Jamie isn't stopping at the march either, on July 19th, she will be bringing the demands of her movement to politicians. Though the march is directed at people best able to make the changes they want to see, politicians, they will not be going by the White House. Jamie wants to make it clear that this isn't solely about President Trump, but at the alarming problems her generation will be left with if nothing is done.

With record breaking storms and horrific wildfires sweeping the country, her point is well made by the environment as well as the protest. While we have not yet seen a category 6 hurricane, the growing possibility of one occurring due to climate change has been brought up frequently by scientists. Last year, hundreds of people lost their lives to the violent storms and fires created by a changing climate. If this continues, Jamie and her friends are concerned there won't be a planet left for her.

ZeroHour is yet another example of youth making a difference where perhaps no one else can. The Florida government has actually banned the use of the terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” in official government documents. This attitude is one shared by many government officials through out the United States, but it may not be there for long. The march against climate change is expected to be a catalyst to change that.

All around the world, young people are making a difference. Despite not having the ability to vote, curfews, and the general contempt towards the thoughts of the younger generation, real progress has been had at the hands of children. We have yet to see whether real change can be made this time, but if history is any indication, they have a fighting chance at making their voices heard.

We Are Still In: Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement

In 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement became one of the biggest moments in our fight against climate change. Countries all over the world made an agreement to reduce their greenhouse gases and to commit themselves to the fight against climate change. Since then many of them have made great progress in their goals, with some countries going so far as planning to reach their goals ahead of schedule. In the daunting face of climate change, the Paris Climate Agreement symbolized and manifested the world coming together to working towards finding a solution to environmental cirisis and hope for the fture.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and left many US citizens feeling embarrassed. It seemed like it would be yet another blow to the United State's position as a forward thinking nation, but citizens decided to take action. In a startling reversal of the president's words, they sent a powerful message back to the world: “We Are Still In!”

That message has since spread from the war cry of a few scattered businesses and states, to a national movement encompassing almost 2,000 businesses, 10 states, 272 cities or counties, and 9 tribes. All total, these people represent more than half of all Americans. 

Those who want to be part of the social movement can sign up at the “We Are Still In” website. There, they can make an agreement for their state, business, or other body of people, to keep to the agreements set in the climate agreement.

Many of the organizations that have done so have already seen success in their goals. As an example Minnesota, the first and so far only midwest state to join the movement, is already making great strides toward their goals. They officially joined the movement in 2017, but have been working on the clean energy sector for over a decade now. They set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and are already half way to their goal.

Walmart, one of the largest retail chains in the nation, has also joined the agreement. Most of their carbon footprint doesn't come from their own stores, but from the supply chain they get their products from. In an effort to be more sustainable, they are challenging the suppliers that fill their shelves to help them remove up to one gigaton of greenhouse gases from being created in the next 15 years. This is a huge goal, and a great one. 

Their plan is backed by trying to figure out scientific ways to reduce their emissions, and through their influence have already convinced several suppliers to not only reduce their impact, but have inspired a few to go as far as going completely carbon neutral.

These efforts are just two examples of many thousands of groups who are each striving in their own way to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. These states, companies, and organizations have realized how important climate change is, and are taking steps toward changing the future of the planet to be a better one. With rising ocean levels making it a reality for entire countries to disappear in the next few years, the timing of these efforts has never been more critical.

As more and more Americans sign on to this agreement, we can hope that our efforts will help change the future. The United States might be “out” of the Paris Agreement, but as for the people, “We are still in!”

You can learn more about We Are Still In at their website, Twitter, and Instagram.