Community

Radiohead Releases Leaked OK Computer Sessions to Support Extinction Rebellion

Radiohead has released 18 hours of demo recording, studio sessions, and unreleased songs after a hacker demanded $150,000 as ransom to not leak the stolen recordings. In response, the band released the compilation of the recordings on Bandcamp for £18 (or around $25) as a fundraiser for the global climate activist group, Extinction Rebellion, who have taken up residency in London.

Radiohead.Climate.Change.Extinction.Rebellion.Idioteqe.Iceage.Coming.Environment.jpg

Quoting from band member Jonny Greenwood:

“We got hacked last week - someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it. So instead of complaining - much - or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.

Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it though?”

“The climate and ecological emergency demands courage, truth-telling and generosity like never before,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement, “We are so grateful to Radiohead for showing us how that’s done, both now and in the lead-up to the April rebellion. Words are inadequate but actions do change the world.”

To download the recordings, visit Radiohead’s Bandcamp page.

To learn more about or to support Extinction Rebellion, visit their website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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

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

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

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

(Photo:  LA Opinion )

(Photo: LA Opinion)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

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

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

Women’s March - Chicago, Illinois

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

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

Learn more at stopabortionbans.org

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

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

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

Hello, Have You Registered to Vote Yet?

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

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

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

Voting.Location.Register.To.Vote.2020.Election.jpg

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

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

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

Uber and Lyft Drivers Set to Strike Before Uber IPO

Uber and Lyft drivers in several major cities across the globe are planning a 2-hour strike set for May 7, 2019- the day before Uber shares begin to trade publicly. Labor groups who are organizing the strike are protesting the companies’ payment and labor practices, and hope that their early morning-rush hour strike will cause enough congestion to not only make Uber and Lyft executives take notice, but also the financial press covering the much awaited Uber IPO.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, rideshare drivers in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles are scheduled to go on strike from 7AM to 9AM on Wednesday, May 8th. According to the Independant, the participating cities in the UK include London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has released three demands to coincide with the strike:

  1. In solidarity with our driver brothers and sisters fighting to stop poverty and debt and in support of their national demands!

  2. To win Job Security for App Drivers by ending Unfair Deactivations in NYC!

  3. To secure a Livable Income by ending the scam of Upfront Pricing where passengers pay more but drivers earn less. Regulate the fare Uber/Lyft/Juno/Via charge passengers, and cap the Companies' commission, guaranteeing 80-85% of the fare to the driver!

Uber is projected to go public at the largest, or one of the largest valuations for an IPO. According to the New York Times, “Uber expects to be worth as much as $91 billion when it starts selling shares next month, making its initial public offering one of the largest in the history of the technology industry.”

While the rideshare company has become a political behemoth, noted for its bull-headed early strategy of entering markets before laws were created to accommodate it and treating cities like its own private laboratory, this moment before Uber’s IPO is also one of its most vulnerable. According to Business Insider, “Dara Khosrowshahi could get a huge payday — totaling more than $100 million according to a source — if Uber's IPO valuation hits $120 billion and stays at that level for 90 consecutive days.” This means that Uber’s CEO has $100 million on the line to make Uber’s transition to public company as smooth and valuable as possible.

Source:  Uber

Source: Uber

If drivers are able to generate enough strain on the rideshare systems to cause a public outrage, or even just a media one, then the drivers who are often considered to be exploited by rideshare companies can leverage this window of opportunity to either guarantee that Uber’s CEO doesn’t get his $100 million bonus, or demand more livable wages and treatment.

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders has even responded to the strike in a statement on Twitter, “Uber says it can't pay its drivers more money, but rewarded its CEO with nearly $50 million last year. People who work for multibillion-dollar companies should not have to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get by. I stand with the Uber and Lyft drivers going on strike on May 8.”

Although not specifically tied into the driver IPO strike, the environmental nonprofit and activist group, Sierra Club, has also entered into the fray with a new campaign, that takes advantage of the IPO media, to urge Uber and Lyft to electrify their fleet. In a statement to the Verge, Andrew Linhardt, deputy advocacy director at the Sierra Club said that, “they need to put real funding behind these incentive programs, especially for full-time drivers, and get them more quickly into electric vehicles. They have the market power to help shape the EV market.”

Whether it’s workers rights, fair pay, or vehicle electrification— Uber, and its executive team, have a lot to consider before their upcoming IPO. Uber is set to become one of the largest, if not the largest, IPO in market history at around a valuation of $91 billion. While there has been much mythologizing about Uber’s executive culture of relentlessness, in actuality it’s their drivers whose backs they built their fortunes on. Rideshare companies like to tout their environmental nature and efficiency, but in actuality their fleet still burns gas. With the May 8th strike, hopefully those who will benefit least from the company’s windfall will begin to have their say.

Youth Climate Strike Are Only Gaining Momentum

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

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

Youth Climate Strike in Chicago

The History of the Youth Climate Strike

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

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

Striking From School

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

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

A New Organization

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

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Youth Climate Strike in Washington DC

Organization

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

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

Leadership

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

Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

Intersectionality

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

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in San Francisco via Flickr

Actions

The March 15th Strike

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

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

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

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

Youth Climate Strike in London via  Flickr

Youth Climate Strike in London via Flickr

What’s Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie Peterson: An Artist’s Journey Toward Radical Acceptance

Sophie Peterson, a 24-year-old from Long Grove, Illinois, can pinpoint the exact moment she knew she wanted to become an artist. It was after she won a drawing contest in third grade. After that, she would frequently attend the Art Institute of Chicago with her parents and try to recreate the paintings in her notebook. At eight years old she was no Picasso (she says the drawings were “terrible”) but that didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the art. 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, Sophie faces her feelings of anxiety and depression

Over the years, Sophie admits she temporarily left behind her artwork for fear it would lead to an unprofitable career. She majored in international studies at Colorado State University but it wasn’t until she briefly left college that she rediscovered her love for art and used it to help cope with PTSD, anxiety and her decade-long battle with bulimia nervosa. 

“For the entirety of my recovery journey, art has been the one thing to keep me stable and has led me to have these revelations to see where I am in my mental health and where I am in my recovery,” she says. 

Sophie hopes that her work will encourage others to talk about their mental health

“I remember when I was in art therapy, sitting with a ball of clay trying to mold it and I burst into tears because I couldn’t get it. That was the moment I recognized that I had problems that needed to be resolved.” 

Through her Radical Acceptance series, she faces these issues head on and encourages others to do the same. The inspiration came at the end of her college career, a time when she was unsure of the path ahead and anxious about her future. So, she took her stress, fear and anxiety and channeled it into a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession through repetitive details and mark making. 

“My goal is to talk about my own experiences and let people in on the fact I was really not okay for a period of time and I figured out a way to work through that without using fun, self-care tactics,” she says. “I want people to know they aren’t the only ones going through this.” 

Sophie has always tried to be as authentic as possible with her work, which speaks to the experiences she has gone through with her mental health journey and what it’s like to feel “in your own head” all the time. 

Radical Acceptance is a series of abstract paintings that are a direct representation of anxiousness and obsession

As someone who suffered from an eating disorder for an extended period in her life, Sophie says she that her work also focuses on depression and the inability to see yourself the way other people see you. 

“My experiences are really definitive of what my art stands for,” she says. “I want people to look at the work and put their own thoughts onto it. But once they hear the story behind it, they seem to open up and talk about their own experiences, which has been extremely gratifying.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 Americans experience some form of mental illness a year. Despite the common nature of mental illnesses occurrence, sharing individuals’ experiences with it remain a stigmatized topic.

Sophie and her boyfriend

Sophie and her boyfriend

With her art, Sophie is able to give people, who may not have the words to describe how they’re feeling, the tools for them to express themselves or identify why they may be feeling a certain way, which was the first step on Sophie’s road to recovery.

It’s been a long journey, but one Sophie says she wouldn’t change. “In general, there are time when I look back and think, ‘I wish I would have done this differently,’ but when I reframe thinking in terms of where I was at mentally and the trajectory that I’ve been on, I don’t think I have any regrets – life is what it is.” 

She laughs knowing how cliché it sounds, but also realizing how true it is, especially for her and so many others around the world. 

“The best part is when the audience kind of falls into a piece and puts their own interpretation on the artwork,” she says. “It might lead them to think about certain memories or experiences, which can help start a conversation about how they’re feeling. I don’t care if people love my work or not, but if people are talking about their mental health, then that means I’ve done something for them.”

To find out more about Sophie Peterson, follow her on Instagram.

The Algorithmic Accountability Act Is Designed to Remove Bias From Big Data

How does your Netflix account always seem to know just what cheesy rom-com or gory slasher flick you’re in the mood for? How is an iPhone X able to recognize your face as easily as a person does? How can Google Maps calculate routes that circumvent traffic jams and get you where you need to be in as little time as possible? These, and many other technological innovations, are possible due to algorithms. 

In the world of computer science, algorithms can be defined as lists of instructions that tell computers what to do. In this increasingly digital age, algorithms are a part of almost everything we do. Amazon uses algorithms to suggest items that you might want to browse. Online dating sites like eHarmony and OkCupid use algorithms to match up potential couples. Financial analysts and traders train algorithms to predict and react to fluctuations in the stock market at speeds that no human being could ever accomplish. Modern society has grown reliant on algorithms for a lot of the tasks we take for granted, and this reliance shows no signs of stopping. Although these increasingly complex algorithms present new and exciting opportunities to harness the power of computers to better modern life, they still have flaws. 

The Algorithmic Accountability Act, sponsored by (2020 presidential candidate) Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey and Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, seeks to address some of these flaws. Algorithms are essentially just lines and lines of code, and as such, they cannot think for themselves. However, algorithms often have the unintended effect of reflecting the unconscious biases of their creators. For example, a facial recognition algorithm called Rekognition, championed by computer engineers at Amazon, was recently accused of racism. In a study conducted at MIT, Rekognition could successfully identify the genders of lighter-skinned individuals, but misidentified the gender of darker-skinned individuals at a 20-30% rate. This isn’t because the algorithm itself harbors prejudice against people of color, but because its coders originally only trained it on white subjects. This major oversight could have dangerous implications in the real world — a recent Georgia Tech study concluded that the algorithms behind self-driving vehicles were consistently unable to identify dark-skinned people as pedestrians. In practice, that would make dark-skinned people more likely to get hit by self-driving cars than white people. Driverless cars aren’t the only technology accused of potentially dangerous bias — Amazon, Facebook, and Google have all been accused of algorithmic bias in the past five years. 

The Algorithmic Accountability Act would be a huge stride forward for ethics in tech. Under the act, large tech company and data broker algorithms would be held accountable to a greater degree — they would have to evaluate any algorithm involving behavior prediction, sensitive data, or the monitoring of publicly accessible spaces for discrimination and potential privacy breaches. If any concerns arose in these evaluations, tech companies would need to address them in a timely manner. This way, we can reap all the technological benefits that algorithms have to offer, but without suffering the discriminatory, hurtful, and even physically harmful consequences of race, gender, or class-based algorithmic bias. 

 

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.