Politics

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

Learn more at stopabortionbans.org

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

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Hello, Have You Registered to Vote Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about Mermaids here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the campaign here.

Only 9% of Americans Actively Deny Climate Change

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

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

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

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

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

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

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

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

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

California Cities Now Require 100% Electric Busses by 2029

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Win Concert Tickets on Instagram's #iVoted Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about the campaign on their website.

Diversity Becomes Her: The 2018 Midterm Candidates Bring Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.