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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.

We're Worried About Climate Change, So We're Throwing a Party!

This Earth Day Weekend, we will be hosting a party for those who are worried about climate change and would like to learn more about what they can do to get involved with the cause!

A live performance from comedian Daniella Mazzio, in addition to an open bar, light refreshments, sustainable product samplings from Salvage Food Products, and environmentally conscious household essentials curated by Trestle will be free to those who attend.

Representatives and members of area activist groups will be in attendance, and will be available to answer any questions you may have about getting involved!

  • 1562 N Milwaukee, Bru Chicago / 7-9:30pm

  • Tickets are free at the door, or $5 to reserve a space.

  • 21+ for open bar

"As a stand-up and musical comedian, Daniella Mazzio has performed at Sketch on the Rocks, The Clever Comedy Show, Make Me Laugh and Win My Money, The Junk Drawer, Szpitalna 1 (Kraków, Poland), You Joke Like a Girl, The Strange Hour, Live From Mom's Basement, and Arts & Culture Club. She has be opened for Improvised Board Games, Breakfast of Champions, Silly Point, and Spliff, and recently headlined Mary’s Comedy Club at Hamburger Mary’s Chicago." -Daniella Mazzio

"Two chef buddies who realized that with enough alcohol and science, anything is possible. Through trial, error and chance encounters, they have created a system to convert alcohol manufacturing wastage into creative food products. With their chef coats behind them, Nicholas Beaulieu and Jason Garland look forward to expanding their vision to a brewery near you." -Salvage Food Products

"Our team is made up of people who, like many, would rather support companies who operate by the values we believe in, but often find our dollars going to convenience and competitive prices. We think it’s too hard and time consuming to discover companies who do more than simply earn a profit. It doesn’t have to be this way." -Trestle

You can find out more about Daniella Mazzio on her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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

You can learn more about Trestle 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.

Connection Is Key for Chicago-Based Music Duo Zigtebra

There’s a unique sound behind Chicago-based band Zigtebra’s music. Self-described as lo-fi indie rock, you can’t help but move to it. But it’s not just the synthetic beats or spunky lyrics that make the music mesmerizing. After talking with Emily Rose, 28, and Joe Zeph, 34, the “dream pop duo” behind the band, I quickly learned how their love for the music translates to their audience, making even a newcomer to the sound love their music too. 

Joe grew up in church and was therefore exposed to music at an early age whereas Emily’s background is in dance. But although delayed in formal music training, Emily’s passion for music has always been present, which is apparent in her dedication to the craft. 

In 2017, Zigtebra wrote one new song every month of the year and went on a 120-day summer tour. The following year they toured for nine months playing house shows and alt spaces around America. 

Emily described the tour as a learning experience that was “totally personal” and “satisfying.” She says, “It was the best kind of hard work. I would rather show up to that kind of hard work than hard work I’m not passionate about. That year changed everything. It grew me more than anything I had ever done.” 

That year, Joe and Emily started writing songs together – a process that transformed their songwriting journey. All of their music comes from personal experiences they’ve gone through whether it’s “scorching heart ache or longing.” 

Emily says, “The coolest part about our music is that it’s not the story that we own. It’s a story everybody knows and we want to write music that people can hear and think this is how I feel because falling in love, being dumped or missing somebody is a universal thing we all go through.”

“When you realize your friends or even strangers have felt the same jealousy heartache, loss and embarrassment, it brings everyone together and I really love that – it makes me feel a little bit closer to everybody.” 

And that’s what Emily and Joe want fans to get from their music – simply knowing they aren’t alone in whatever they’re going through, no matter how good or how bad. 

Emily, who doesn’t come from a music background, also says she hopes people feel empowered to share their creative or artistic ideas with others.

“I never want to come across as pretentious or too cool,” she says. “I want to feel connected to everybody because that’s what makes me really happy is going to shows where the artist is accessible.” 

She adds, “We always try to come on stage already thinking we’re connected to the audience instead of feeling self-conscious about how we look or what we’re doing.”

And by doing that, Emily and Joe have created a space where anyone and everyone can feel free to be themselves and connect with one another through their shared loved of music. 

Emily and Joe have come a long way since they first started making music and performing together, and in terms of their career, they still have a long way to go until they make it “big” so to speak, but they’re eager to see what the future holds and look forward to seeing it through with their fans. 

“In two years, it would be great to have an album made that I am in total love with,” Emily says. “To be able to go further and deeper down the hole and extend beyond the release of Major Crush.”

She adds, “If you start with realism and then go toward expressionism, Major Crush was our realism phase. We passed art class 101 and now we’re going onto weirder stuff.” 

And as for what’s next on the agenda, Emily and Joe would both love to sign to a record label and go on tour through Europe. 

They’re big dreams but dreams that don’t seem that far-fetched. Emily tells me she knew when she met Joe that they were going to make music together for a long time. 

“Everyone knows how that is,” she says. “When you have a friend that gets the same things you get and are curious about the same stuff. Regardless of what people thought of Zigtebra, we both knew it was going to be something we loved and that it wasn’t going to be perfect but we were going to do our best to make it get there.” 

The process hasn’t been easy. They’ve sacrificed a lot along the way and they’ve had their fair share of challenges, but it’s been worth it. 

“In this moment, we’re better than we ever have been in our craft,” she says. “And we can only continue to get better from here.” 

Find out more about Zigtebra on their website or Bandcamp. Follow along on their Instagram, Facebook, and 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

Putting Away Plastic: The Rise of Zero Waste Grocery Stores

Around the globe, there is a drive to reduce plastic waste. The movement has picked up in many cities with hotels, restaurants and shops cutting down on the use of single-use items like plastic straws and bags. 

Most of this waste are used in packaging and many, frankly are unnecessary. From packing avocados and oranges in individual plastic wraps in places like Hong Kong, to boxes or cellophane wraps in the states. Some even package apples in hard plastic clamshells, bananas in foam trays, and in places like Japan, strawberries are packaged in a foam net before been put in a plastic straw and sold in a plastic wrap. 

different-kinds-of-cookies-in-shop-PTULNRF.jpg

In years past, China had been recycling more than half of the world’s waste but since they stopped accepting wastes, the millions of tons of such waste have been left unattended many times. In many countries, plastic fibers contaminate tap water.

Key Drivers 

Last year saw the anti-plastic drinking straw campaign create the “year of the straw”. Big companies like Starbucks and McDonalds pledged to reduce or phase out plastic straw use. Loop, a new zero waste shopping platform has partnered with global companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble to brand-name goods in reusable containers. This means that instead of using plastic containers to package goods and having to trash them, Loop collects the reusable packaging and prepares it for fresh use.

It also would not be possible without the help of the government. The European parliament has approved a ban on single-use plastics (cutlery, straws and sticks) in the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May has endorsed a plan to remove avoidable plastic waste in British supermarkets, with taxes on single-use containers. In the US, the state of California bans single-use plastic bags at large retail stores and Hong Kong is planning to implement a building management enforcement for plastic waste. 

Trailblazers

With such key drivers in the push for zero waste, it is easier to see why there is a rise in zero waste grocery stores. In the states, Precycle in Brooklyn is one of those stores that sell organic local produce and bulk food without packaging. The founder, Katerina Bogatireva said she was inspired by the Berlin based Original Unverpackt

Over in Canada, Nada are doing great and have reportedly diverted more than 30,500 containers from landfills. They also launched a zero-waste café where visitors are encouraged to bring their own cups from home. Out in Denver, Zero Market are also one of the leading lights in the drive for zero plastic waste in the environment. 

In Hong Kong, Live Zero and Edgar are two popular zero waste stores. Live Zero, which is more of a wholesale store keeps its items in clear self-service bins or dispensers which are then poured into containers that you come with from home, no plastic packaging. Edgar is more of a grocery shop and they even offer reusable containers for packaging rather than using plastic. 

Gradually, the change is getting to everyone. There are now plastic free supermarket aisle’s in Amsterdam (the first of its kind in the EU) while Waitrose now sells Pasta in boxes made from food waste

With legislature and global firms steering the wheel, zero-waste grocery stores will continue to rise as they offer a solution to sustainability in the environment.

Meet Trestle, the Company That Simplifies Ethical Shopping

For the conscientious shopper, buying almost anything these days has become a nightmare situation. Ethical concerns about chocolate and coffee production abound, and every few years reports of slave-like factory conditions in developing nations shock and devastate Western shoppers. Other considerations factor into the anxiety of the ethical shopper, too. A company that treats its employees like gold might still be environmentally sustainable. Worse, some brands participate in greenwashing, a marketing trick meant to make consumers believe that they’re greener than they actually are. Meanwhile, the time necessary to research informed choices is more than the average working person can handle.

Enter Trestle, a shopping research service whose goal is to empower ethical consumers. This innovative company intends to take the guesswork out of shopping by bringing their customers the information they need to buy consciously. In the process, it’ll show people how to support the prosperity of products and sellers that make the world a better place.

Jennifer Johnson (L), Carl Hickerson (R) on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Trestle’s history

Trestle is the brainchild of Jennifer Johnson and Carl Hickerson, who graciously sat down with us for an interview. Like many great ideas, the one that eventually became Trestle was born on a long hike. Experienced in project and business management, Jennifer and Carl were up-and-coming young professionals with a shared hope of changing the world. As they traveled the Pacific Northwest Trail together, they discussed the potential of for-profit business to make a difference in the world, a potential that, they agreed, amounted to a responsibility. By mitigating their impact on the planet or by refusing to exploit people in economically vulnerable parts of the world, companies could stand in for hundreds or even thousands of consumers whose individual efforts wouldn’t be enough to make a significant change in the world. They could represent an aggregate desire for justice on the part of everyone who chose to support them by purchasing their products.

Ultimately, the two came to the conclusion that every purchase is a statement that matters. Each tells its company, ethical and otherwise, that its customers support the company’s actions. Looking at their own shopping practices in this light, Jennifer and Carl were embarrassed. Like most Americans, they often chose their purchases by convenience rather than by their own ethical standards. As bad as this made them feel, they weren’t entirely at fault. Conscious shopping, they learned, was precipitously difficult for an individual. Doing the research, seeking out brands, and finding locations to purchase products consciously required an investment of time that most people simply don’t have. Mindful consumerism needed to combine ethical standards with the convenience of conventional shopping. This became the founding principle of Trestle.

What Trestle does

Trestle is a new kind of shopping service: one that doesn’t shop for you, but which provides research which could be time limiting for the average person. It also operates on an affordable subscription model not much more expensive than a reasonably-priced gym membership. Trestle customers can sign up for $10/month memberships, for which they get unlimited reports, or “Trestle Tracks,” on any product or company they’d like to know more about. These reports contain expert-level research on any consumer item that the customer wants to know about. In an economic landscape crowded with products, this really takes the guesswork out of purchasing, especially when it comes to items of significance like furniture. Trestle Tracks cover the top three or four company or product performers for each report, presenting the customer with both options and information. It’s not hard to imagine this as the shopping trend of the future. Millennials in particular are famous for wanting to shop according to their values. Jennifer points out that “81% of millennials believe that companies should take active approaches to improving the environment and 3/4 consumers would actually pay more for sustainable and ethically-made goods.” The success of organic food and buy-local movements attests to the growing demand for products with socially and environmentally positive impacts.

Trestle’s Brand Explorer  lets you search through products and brands based off of the values like “Fair Trade,” or “B-Corp”

Trestle’s Brand Explorer lets you search through products and brands based off of the values like “Fair Trade,” or “B-Corp”

Trestle’s research practice considers each company or product in light of the shopper’s particular ethical concerns. For example, a shopper who cares about the environment and wants to buy eco-friendly toothbrushes will get a different report from one who cares about fair labor practices and wants to buy a dress. The result is information that’s tailored to the individual’s values. Transparency, sustainability, fair labor, and animal cruelty are all factors by which Trestle’s customers can ask to rate and rank companies. The company’s business highlights page, which includes Patagonia, Mammut, and MUTU Coffee, is an example of the quality and character of companies that fit many shopper’s expectations for ethically acceptable practices.

As of the writing of this profile, Trestle is less than three years old. It only began actively taking subscriptions in January of 2019. Even though it’s still young, Jennifer and Carl have big plans for the future. The company will soon expand its offerings so that buyers can take Trestle with them to the store, where it could make an even more significant difference to its clientele. After all, when faced with fifty similar-looking cereals at the supermarket, having Trestle on your side could mean the difference between consciousness and convenience.

Trestle lets you explore  based on Sustainability, Fair Labor, Social Impact, Cruelty Free, Transparency, and more

Trestle lets you explore based on Sustainability, Fair Labor, Social Impact, Cruelty Free, Transparency, and more

What Makes A Company Ethical?

Although it uses research to rank and rate companies, Trestle doesn’t deliver verdicts on whether companies are objectively “good.” There’s no Trestle stamp of approval or Trestle-approved business directory - at least, not yet. Instead, Trestle looks at the company’s value claims. If a customer wants to buy sustainably, for example, Trestle might consider a company’s marketing or message that their products are 100% biodegradable. They’d look into the validity of that claim, as well as others that the company makes about its sustainability practices, and rate the company based on how well it measures up to its own standards. Then, if the company is a good match for the customer’s requirements, Trestle will recommend it. Jennifer describes this as the Match.com of e-commerce. The service Trestle provides is more about compatibility with the consumer’s interests than an absolute standard of quality. Ultimately, it’s up to the customer to decide what they care about.

Customer response has been very enthusiastic. Shoppers are tired of feeling like dupes when their preferred brand turns out to have a terrible human rights record or a history of dumping toxic waste. In a nation where the average millennial works 45 hours per week, doing personal research on every brand might add hours of planning to every shopping trip. Every new product on the market would be a question mark, and starting a new hobby would be prohibitive. Companies that behave badly profit off of the average person’s inability to keep up with their behavior. Trestle’s model explodes that factor. For their customers, there will be no more uncertainty.

Since opening their digital doors in January of 2019, Trestle’s customer response has been tremendous. The young company has fielded inquiries about beauty products, clothing, art supplies, furniture, and more. Jennifer attributes the company’s momentum to the fact that people want to patronize companies that think like they do. There’s no joy in buying from an organization that will make the world a worse place, but supporting a company that makes both a good product and a positive difference is a double value.

Trestle provides information about  both individual products and entire brands

Trestle provides information about both individual products and entire brands

Shopping Mindfully

Philosophically, shopping consciously means shopping with intention. Jennifer tells In Kind that online shopping has reinforced a preference for convenience in our culture. There’s a level of casualness to shopping that simply didn’t exist before everything was available for the minimum price at the touch of a button. The fact that anyone with a credit card can buy anything, no matter how obscure, over the Internet may have generated a new kind of consumer complacency. This may be good for certain companies’ quarterly reports, but it’s not ideal for humankind.

Mindful shopping isn’t just a way to live according to ethical values. It’s a way to reclaim a consumer process that seems to depend on the customer being at least partially checked out of the buying process. If knowledge is power, then knowing about our purchasing options returns a certain amount of power to us as consumers. It forces us to think as we buy rather than simply looking for the lowest price. Minimalists already appreciate that an easy-come, easy-go culture leads to a certain amount of devaluation, not just of the intangible ethical tenets that matter to us, but of the objects themselves. When it doesn’t matter where a purchase came from, then does the purchase itself mean as much? Apparently, a mindlessly bought item can be cheap in more ways than one.

From Left to Right: Damola Omotosho (CTO), Carl Hickerson (Founder), Jennifer Johnson (Founder)

From Left to Right: Damola Omotosho (CTO), Carl Hickerson (Founder), Jennifer Johnson (Founder)

Jennifer sees Trestle as a way to build an alternative consumer system. In many ways, it counters the assumption of the corporate mainstream that customers don’t have or need meaning in their financial transactions. Instead, Trestle assumes that their clients are intelligent and concerned, interested in the world around them and eager to be informed. It’s a respectful point of view that’s much lacking in an economic landscape where consumers are often treated as forces of nature, statistics, or sources of revenue. Perhaps it’s time that the buyers of America stopped tolerating companies that ignore both the greater good and their customers’ desire to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s time that companies who insist on upholding their ethical standards are found and brought into their deserving spotlight. If that time is here, and a new generation of companies is set to thrive on customer desire to do good, then Trestle will certainly be in the vanguard. Jennifer and Carl may yet prove that business can change the world.

You can learn more about Trestle on their website, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Ecosia: The Search Engine That Turns Profits Into Trees

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that about 18.7 million acres of forests are cut down each year, roughly equivalent to 27 full-sized football fields every minute. These forests are crucial for absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, balancing the water cycle, preventing soil erosion, and providing food, water, and shelter for approximately 1.6 billion people around the world. How can you do your part to slow deforestation and restore our planet’s supply of trees? It may not be realistic for you to go out into the wild and plant a tree yourself, but there are still important ways you can contribute! For example, Ecosia, a free search engine founded in 2009 by entrepreneur and activist Christian Kroll, is doing amazing work to help mitigate the effects of deforestation. Restoring the world’s forests is just a few clicks away!

Ecosia is a search engine that uses its ad revenue to fund reforestation projects all over the world, from Tanzania to Indonesia to Brazil. In order to best direct their income, Ecosia partners with nonprofit organizations like TreeAid in Ghana, which restores important watersheds in rural communities, and FairVentures in Indonesia, which helps restore the natural habitat of wild orangutans. Right now, Ecosia and its 7 million active users have gained enough traction to be able to plant one tree every second, amounting to over 50 million trees planted in total. Their goal is to plant one billion trees worldwide. If you’re interested in tracking their progress, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for their email newsletter! Every time you use Ecosia to look something up, any ad revenue gained from your search goes towards these reforestation projects. According to Ecosia’s FAQ page, it takes about 45 searches’ worth of ad revenue to plant one tree. You can track your progress using Ecosia’s personal counter, which appears next to the search bar and lets you know how many trees’ worth of searches you’ve made!

Ecosia isn’t just taking a stand against deforestation — they’ve also committed themselves to transparency and privacy as a search engine, making them a great alternative to Google, Bing, and Yahoo for people who are concerned about their digital footprint. Unlike other search engines, Ecosia refuses to sell your search data to third party advertising companies or use external tracking tools. They also don’t create persona profiles for their users, and they anonymize all search data within 7 days of each search. All of Ecosia’ searches are encrypted using a self-hosted, in-house analytics system, and finally, you can opt out of all tracking services by activating the “Do Not Track” setting on your browser. In order to maintain the utmost level of transparency, Ecosia publishes monthly financial reports, which detail exactly how much ad revenue they made, exactly how much money went into tree planting, and exactly which nonprofit organizations received reforestation money.

If you’re looking for a super easy way to do your part in the fight against deforestation, consider making Ecosia your default search engine on your laptop or desktop computer. Without even thinking of it, you’ll be contributing to crucial reforestation efforts all over the world. Plus, you can rest assured that your private information stays private, which means that both you and the environment benefit from Ecosia!

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. 

Salvage Food Products and Chicago's Growing Zero Waste Movement

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

Who are Salvage?

Nicholas Beaulieu

Nicholas Beaulieu

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is zero waste?

Jason Garland

Jason Garland

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

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

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

How it works

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

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

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

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

Right Bee Cider

Right Bee Cider

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

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

Great for nature, great for business

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

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

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

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

Explaining the Green New Deal and Its Critical Urgency

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

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

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

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

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

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

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

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

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

Green.New.Deal.Wind.Energy

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

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

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

Green.New.Deal.Solar.Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about Mermaids here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the campaign here.

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

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

Source:  The White House

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

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

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

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

Source:  NBC

Source: NBC

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

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

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

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

Source:  MoMA

Source: MoMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then and now, Jesus would agree.

Cover image by George Conklin

Only 9% of Americans Actively Deny Climate Change

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

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

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

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

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

Source:  Yale

Source: Yale

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

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

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

Andy Warhol Foundation Expands Grant Program to Cleveland and Denver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about the Andy Warhol Foundation here.

There’s Nothing Daniella Mazzio Can’t Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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