Week Nine: Communities for a Better Environment

The Office on Environmental Justice was created by the George H.W. Bush administration and aims to reduce the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people. Mustafa Ali, founding member and head of the EPA’s Office on Environmental Justice, resigned on March 7th, in advance of the release of the Trump administration’s proposed budget which was expected to eliminate all funding for the Office. Ali tried to make a financial business case to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to spare the Office, citing a Spartanburg, SC example in which a community experiencing high cancer rates from abandoned toxic dump sites turned a $20,000 federal grant into $270 million from investors and government to revitalize the city. Ali later remarked in his resignation letter, “When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ [Environmental Justice] small grants…I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most.” Ali’s plea apparently fell short, as the proposed budget released on March 16th cuts all funding for the Office on Environmental Justice. Let your members of Congress know that Environmental Justice is important.

This week, we donated to Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice nonprofit that prevents pollution and promotes healthy green building. CBE focuses its work where conventional policies of profits-before-people do the most harm — in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. CBE’s victories since the 1970’s include winning settlements against oil companies forcing them to clean-up over 700 contaminated sites, achieving stringent refinery flaring regulations, preventing refineries from processing the dirtiest grades of crude oil, and stopping chrome-plating factories from emitting highly toxic pollutants next to schools.

Everyone deserves to live in communities that are safe from contamination, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. Access to clean water, clean air, and a clean environment in which to raise your family and build your life is not a privilege for the wealthy, but a basic human right for everyone. Sadly, we believe that environmental injustice is only going to become more and more widespread as time goes on, because climate change and the degradation of our planet is one of the most pressing issues facing us today. Now more than ever, it is crucial to support organizations like CBE that help people take back their communities from harm done by profit-obsessed companies.


Week Eight: Facing History

On February 7th, Betsy DeVos was sworn in as Education Secretary. She chairs the pro-school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, and has been working for decades in Michigan to create programs and legislation that promote charter schools and use public funds to pay for vouchers for private schools. DeVos attended only private schools, chose to send her children to private schools, and has never taught in the classroom. Traditional public school system proponents fear that a pro-school-choice platform could redirect to a voucher program $500 million in current Title I funding for public schools with low-income students.

This week we donated to the nonprofit organization Facing History that has spent the past 40 years empowering young people to confront bigotry. Through study of the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. Facing History provides coaching, professional development, and classroom resources to high school teachers. In 2016 alone, Facing History reached 48,000 educators with 92% of those reporting that the program helped their students participate in respectful conversations and stand up for what they believe in.

Both of us are proud graduates of the public school system. School-choice advocates say that everyone should be able to choose a great school, and maybe in a perfect world that would be the case — but in reality, many students are left unserved. Charter schools and voucher programs have seen mixed results nationally, and many concerns have been raised regarding segregation, profiteering, weak oversight and accountability, and selective recruitment practices at some of our country’s charter schools. Rural communities may not be served by charters, and while school-choice proponents claim vouchers can help anyone access private schools, many studies have shown that school choice programs do not provide enough money to benefit low-income families. This issue is vitally important to us because it boils down to the American Dream: every child deserves an equal opportunity for success and happiness. American schools are not a business. Our schools serve the essential purpose to educate ALL students, including those with disabilities and students who are learning English as a second language, and schools need all of the limited funds they currently receive to be able to achieve that noble effort.

Week Seven: Lambda Legal

Gavin Grimm is a 17-year-old transgender high school senior in Gloucester County, Virginia. Grimm, born a female, told school staff he was transgender as a freshman and was originally allowed to use the boy’s bathroom until the school board adopted a policy that required students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex. Grimm was told he could use unisex bathrooms, but he did not want to be “separate but equal.” The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Grimm’s case, but reversed course on Monday, stating they would not take the case. This decision follows the February 22nd letter from the Justice and Education Departments which reversed Obama administration guidance that said transgender students could use restrooms that match their gender identities due to protections of students from gender discrimination under Title IX. You can show support for Gavin, and other trans youth, by signing this petition.

This week, we donated to Lambda Legal, a national nonprofit organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through litigation, education, and public policy work. In 1973 Lambda Legal was founded as the nation’s first LGBT legal organization and became their own first client, as they had to fight for their survival against New York judges who thought their mission was “neither benevolent nor charitable.” Lambda Legal survived and thrived over the years, winning landmark cases such as the first HIV discrimination case, holding schools responsible for harassment and violence against LGBTQ students, striking down sodomy laws, and rejecting laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. In 2015 alone, Lambda Legal was 5-for-5 at the Supreme Court.

We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens deserve to be their full and truest selves, and to have equal rights as those who identify as heterosexual. Every person should feel free to express their true identity. Every child has a right to go to school, and to be protected from bullying and ridicule. Now, more than ever, it is vital for us to stand together to protect our human rights — especially the rights of our transgender citizens who are particularly threatened in light of recent actions.

Week Six: Immigrant Legal Resource Center

On February 8th, Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother of two American kids, reported to her regular check-in with ICE agents in Phoenix. She was taken into custody, separated from her children, and deported the following morning to Mexico. García de Rayos was convicted of a low-level felony in 2009 for using a fake social security number so she could work.

Jeanette Vizguerra is collecting signatures on a petition in hopes of being granted a stay of removal. The mother of three small American children, she is living in a sanctuary church in Colorado trying to avoid deportation. Jeanette and her husband fled Mexico to the U.S. in 1997 after her husband was threatened at gunpoint for the third time at his job as a bus driver. She was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2009 for having fraudulent documents used to apply for a third job. Her mother was on her death bed in 2013, so Jeannette returned to Mexico and tried to build a life there for 7 months. Unable to find sufficient paying work, Jeannette returned to the U.S. where she was detained, released to Colorado, and now rests awaiting her fate.

This week, we donated to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a nonprofit organization that provides immigration legal trainings and resources, and engages in advocacy and civic engagement to advance immigrant rights. ILRC’s expert immigration practice manuals are used by legal service providers nationwide, who also receive case-specific consultations from attorneys at ILRC. In 2015 alone, ILRC facilitated almost 50,000 citizenship applications, saved the immigrant community over $70 million in legal and application fees, conducted well over 1,000 trainings, and distributed over 700,000 red cards empowering undocumented immigrants to exercise their rights during illegal ICE raids.

The America we love is a nation of immigrants, proud of our melting-pot heritage. The America we love doesn’t deport a mother of two American children, who has complied with ICE demands for years, when she arrives at her scheduled meeting. The America we love doesn’t stoke fear and “otherness” instead of compassion and unity. Undocumented immigrants are only trying to do what everyone is trying to do: provide a better life for their families. To read more on this issue, here are 5 immigration myths debunked: for example, undocumented immigrants DO indeed pay taxes, and our economy depends upon their hard work in thankless jobs. We believe that everyone, whether a citizen of our nation or not, deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.


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