Week 21: Free Press

The Obama administration implemented net neutrality policies to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast to allow access to all content and applications regardless of the source. The policies prohibit ISPs from blocking, slowing, or selling priority delivery speeds to certain sites. ISPs have been taken to court over net neutrality issues such as restricting access to competitive companies and slowing service to peer-to-peer sharing sites. The current administration is seeking to roll back these policies, claiming that government interference reduces incentives to invest resulting in higher prices for consumers. On Monday April 3rd the President signed a repeal of Obama’s net neutrality rules, following repeal votes in the House and Senate. FCC commissioners voted to start the process to end net neutrality rules in May and they are now conducting a public comment period that lasts through the end of August. Companies such as Amazon and Netflix and online activists participated in a day of action on Wednesday July 12th that featured protest videos and memes with statements such as, “Unfortunately, your ISP does not want you viewing this content.” Submit a comment to the FCC to share your opinions on net neutrality.

This week in support of net neutrality we donated to the advocacy nonprofit Free Press. Their programs focus on preserving a free and open internet, curbing media consolidation, protecting freedom of the press, and ensuring that media represents diverse voices. In 2015 Free Press secured net neutrality rules at the FCC; the same rules that the FCC is now considering rolling back. In 2016, Free Press successfully defended those net neutrality rules against AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon in the courtrooms and in Congress. In addition, their efforts led to the FCC adding internet broadband service to the existing Lifeline program, which was created to subsidize phone service for low-income individuals.

We believe that this is a MAJOR issue that truly affects our freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to learn and share information. The Internet permeates so many aspects of our lives, both personal and professional, on an individual and community level. As demonstrated by writing and publishing this blog, we believe that the free and open Internet is one of the most valuable tools that people today have to share their opinions and ideas, and fight back against what they feel is wrong. It is hard to imagine life without the luxury of this free and open Internet. It pains and worries us to think about what might happen if we do not all rise up and demand net neutrality today. This decision could have ramifications on all of our lives for years to come.

Week 20: Goodwill

Among Trump’s proposed 31% cuts to EPA funding in his FY18 budget includes the elimination of the RCRA Waste Minimization and Recycling programs. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the framework for the proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. The EPA’s budget justification includes the statement, “State and local entities or industry groups may elect to continue work to reuse and recycle materials…The EPA will focus on core environmental work.” In 2013 alone, U.S. recycling reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to the quantity produced by 39 million cars. Email your Senators and Representatives urging them to preserve the RCRA Waste Minimization and Recycling programs.

This week we donated to Goodwill Industries International, which placed 313,000 people in employment last year and provided online education and job training services to 34 million. Goodwill accepts many discards from residents that cannot go into curbside recycling bins in most cities such as clothing, sporting goods, kitchenware, appliances, and furniture. Goodwill goes to great lengths to repurpose donations; for example they try four different ways to divert a piece of clothing from landfill. First, they try to sell the garments in retail stores. After 4 weeks, items still unsold go to Goodwill outlets where they are sold by the pound. From the outlets, unsold textiles travel to auctions where attendees bid on bins of items without knowing the exact contents. The fourth stop is textile recyclers such as the members of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), who cut clothing into rags for industrial use or soft fiber filling for purposes such as insulating homes or filling furniture. Only 5% of items that eventually make it all the way to SMART are ultimately landfilled (primarily wet, moldy, or contaminated garments).

We have long been fans of Goodwill, donating clothing and items to their drop-off locations and shopping for gently-used items at their stores. However, it wasn’t until Allyn began pursuing a career in sustainability and waste reduction that we truly learned about all of the remarkable work that Goodwill Industries International does for our planet. We believe that the current administration’s insinuation that reusing and recycling materials is somehow not part of “core environmental work” is absolutely ludicrous. Diverting waste from landfills means much less greenhouse gases unnecessarily produced that contribute to rapid climate change; less toxins polluting our soil and groundwater; and less disposal of items that could have been given a new life and new use. We applaud the work that Goodwill does for our communities and Mother Earth—more vital now than ever before!

Week Nineteen: MALDEF

On May 22nd the current administration asked U.S. District Court Judge Orrick to lift an injunction he imposed against Trump’s January executive order denying federal funding to sanctuary cities. On April 25th, Judge Orrick had ruled that Congress, not the President, should decide how federal funds are spent and that the executive order to withhold funding for sanctuary cities likely exceeds federal law. The administration started an entire office VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) within the Homeland Security Department to investigate alleged crimes committed by immigrants. VOICE says it “serves the needs of crime victims and their families who have been impacted by crimes committed by removable criminal aliens.” Yet numerous studies have shown that first-generation immigrants commit less crimes than those born in the United States, and VOICE opponents argue the office is a means of racial profiling. A 2013 American Sociological Review study of 87 large cities found that immigration is strongly associated with less neighborhood violence, especially in sanctuary cities. A robust study in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice analyzed 4 decades of Census data for 200 cities and found that as immigration increased, crime decreased. Here is an urgent petition from a taxpaying mother of three with no criminal record, who was ordered by ICE to leave the county on June 30th.

This week we donated to MALDEF – an organization founded in 1968 that fights for civil rights for Latinos in the U.S. Their educational and political programs create civic opportunities for members of the Latino community. MALDEF’s immigration work includes research, public policy, and litigation. On June 15th MALDEF celebrated the 35th anniversary of a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding a MALDEF lawsuit in Texas. The Supreme Court decision guaranteed all children access to a free public education from kindergarten through 12th grade, regardless of immigration status. The judges ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to deny education to undocumented children, and the majority opinion further stated, “Education provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives to the benefit of us all.” More recently in Texas regarding sanctuary cities, MALDEF has filed suit against SB 4 which threatens removal from office and prosecution of local officials who refuse to comply with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the detainments violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.

We applaud the vitally important work that MALDEF does, day in and day out — not only for the benefit of the immigrant community, but for the benefit of our nation as a whole. We are a nation of immigrants, founded on the principles of dignity and fairness for everyone. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The racial profiling of the VOICE office of the current administration is a threat to the freedom, respect and justice of all of us. It is crucial that we support organizations like MALDEF, fighting for our most vulnerable populations.

Week Eighteen: Ventana Wildlife Society

On Thursday March 2nd, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repealed a ban on using lead ammunition for hunting in areas under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service including wildlife refuges. The ban was put in place to prevent lead poisoning of animals, plants, and humans. There is significant fragmentation in used lead rounds that can potentially contaminate the ground and water. In addition, large birds of prey can accumulate lead when they regularly feed on carrion. Lead toxicity has been shown in humans to cause heart attacks, strokes, and brain damage. Proponents of lead bullets claim that lead-free bullets are more expensive and that lead bullets do not cause substantial harm to wildlife. Environmentalists claim that lead bullets put threatened species such as the California condor at risk, and that there are plenty of types of lead-free ammunition on the market that studies have shown perform and cost the same as lead bullets. To save the condor, the state of California is implementing their own lead ammunition ban which will phase out lead bullets entirely by 2019. Here is a petition asking for Secretary Zinke to reinstate the national ban.

This week we donated to the Ventana Wildlife Society, which we were introduced to through the Oakland Zoo’s California Condor Conservation Program. Not only does the Oakland Zoo supply veterinary care to injured condors, it also provides outreach to local students, connecting them with field biologists and teaching them how to use GIS mapping to analyze conservation challenges. In 1987, there was only a single wild California condor left, so it was taken into captivity to join the last 26 remaining condors to increase the population through a captive breeding program. The breeding was successful and in 1992 the participating zoos began reintroducing the condors into the wild. This reintroduction was also successful, and the population in the wild is now approaching a small but vastly improved 240 birds. The Ventana Wildlife Society, the Oakland Zoo, the aforementioned Fish and Wildlife Service, and other program partners re-established, monitor, and manage this once again wild condor population.

We see absolutely no reason that the ban of lead bullets should be repealed. There are a variety of lead-free bullets on the market and the consequences of using lead bullets are so detrimental to wildlife. The California condor is a thriving, inspiring example of what can happen when we humans band together and use our resources to help wildlife. In the face of looming extinction, the California condor rallied and is now soaring through the open skies. Lead bullets put progress like this at risk—not only harming animals, but harming humans, too. Our natural environment shows, time and time again, how we are all connected: humans, animals, plants, the water and the earth. If we pollute the environment, we will eventually poison ourselves as well. When we protect the environment, we are investing in our health and our future.

Week Seventeen: Donors Choose

As part of the proposed $10.6 billion cuts to the Department of Education, the White House is planning to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which currently erases student loan debts of public sector and nonprofit workers after 10 years of service and on-time loan payments. The program, started in 2007, uses debt forgiveness to compensate workers who seek nonprofit and government employment in lieu of the generally higher-paying private sector business jobs. Some of the common occupations among the 500,000 Americans who have signed up for the program include social workers, librarians, public defenders, teachers, and primary care doctors. The proposal would end the program for new borrowers, so those already paying off loans would still have their loans forgiven after meeting the program requirements.

This week, we donated to Mrs. Ward’s classroom at the Dawson Orman Education Center in Louisville, KY through the nonprofit organization Donors Choose, a website that allows individuals to donate directly to public-school classroom projects. Seventeen years ago, Donors Choose was founded by a public high school teacher in the Bronx named Charles Best, who found himself photocopying the one copy of Little House on the Prairie he could procure for his students. He thought about all the money that he and his fellow teachers spent on books, art supplies, and other materials for their classrooms, and came up with the idea for a website where teachers could post classroom project requests, and donors could choose the ones they wanted to support. Our donation to Mrs. Ward’s classroom helped fund a writing center learning station for her young students in the Head Start program, and our donation was matched by sponsor PNC Grow Up Great.

We believe that people who demonstrate a commitment to nonprofit and government careers through years of service should have an opportunity for student loan forgiveness. After all, to get a job in these fields, one needs higher education, which often requires taking out student loans. These people should not be punished for going into the public sector, taking lower-paying jobs that make it more difficult to pay off their loans. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is rigorous, requiring 10 full years of service and on-time loan payments. This program is a huge financial help to so many of our citizens working in vitally important jobs for the health and vitality of our nation: teachers, social workers, public defenders, primary care doctors, librarians. Where would we be without them? Why take away this program that is meant to demonstrate a small sliver of gratitude for their service?

Week Sixteen: Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth

On May 12th Attorney General Jeff Sessions released an eight-page memo ordering federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest possible charges against crime suspects including mandatory minimum sentences. This contradicts attempts taken in recent years by politicians and advocates across the political spectrum to reform the criminal justice system because they believe an overhaul is needed instead of doubling-down on existing approaches that have proven ineffective. These proponents of criminal justice reform include liberal organizations such as the ACLU and NAACP, but also the conservative Heritage Foundation and Freedom Partners funded by the Koch brothers. The Sentencing Project reports that the U.S. is the world’s leader in incarceration at 2.2 million people jailed, which is a 500% increase over the last 40 years and nearly double the incarceration rate of the 2nd highest country (Russia). In addition, some communities are affected more than others as evidenced by black men having a 1 in 3 chance of being imprisoned, while white men have only a 1 in 17 chance. Email your Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would reduce correctional spending and give federal judges the flexibility to determine sentences on a case-by-case basis.

This week we donated to Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), an organization that interrupts the school-to-prison pipeline by intervening after crimes have been committed to repair harm and prevent re-offending. RJOY was founded by civil rights attorney and community activist Fania E. Davis, who was looking for a more effective approach than our current system, and modeled RJOY after remarkably successful programs in South Africa and New Zealand. The program began with a pilot project at West Oakland Middle School and achieved an 87% reduction in suspensions, preserving vital Title I attendance funding. Due to the success of the pilot, program training expanded to 20 schools, and RJOY has now served over 1,000 Oakland youth. In addition to the South Africa and New Zealand programs, U.S. restorative justice programs have also shown substantial improvement over the status quo, such as Barron County, WI’s program which reduced violent juvenile offenses by 49% and arrests by 45%.

It is a travesty that so many of our families and communities are being torn apart by the rampant incarceration rates in our nation, particularly for minor drug offenses. Prisons are profiting off the current system, and our citizens — especially people of color and low-income communities — are paying the price. We believe that rehabilitation and restorative justice programs, like RJOY, are not only more effective in solving these problems and helping people, but moreover are much fairer and more humane solutions.

Week Fifteen: The Conservation Fund

On April 26th President Trump signed an executive order which tasked the Department of the Interior with conducting a review of 27 national monuments created since 1996. Opponents of these monuments favor opening up the lands to mining, logging, and grazing. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will recommend executive or legislative changes to the monument designations, which could lead to the President or Congress taking actions to shrink or entirely revoke them. The 1906 Antiquities Act gives Presidents the power to designate these monuments; not since 1938 has a President tried to revoke a designation. In that year, FDR attempted to reverse President Coolidge’s designation of the Castle Pinckney National Monument in South Carolina but the Attorney General determined that the Antiquities Act only gives Presidents power to establish monuments, not abolish them. Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson have shrunk national monuments to open them up for industry such as logging. The Interior Department has established a comment period through July 10th: click on the blue Comment Now! button at this link to weigh in on this issue.

This week we gave to The Conservation Fund, an organization whose mission is to preserve the environment and promote economic prosperity. They focus on the U.S. only, and have helped preserve many of the over 100 U.S. national monuments. Their approach involves creating funds to support innovative solutions for land conservation. For example, The Conservation Fund protects forests by buying private working forest land, acquiring conservation easements on that land to protect it from development, and then selling it back to timber companies whose production must adhere to sustainable management standards such as those of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Over 30 years The Conservation Fund has protected 7.5 million acres of land, which is the equivalent of one Central Park each day.

Our national monuments are a treasured part of our nation’s heritage. We agree with what the Attorney General determined back in 1938: that Presidents should have the power to establish new monuments, not abolish existing monuments. Presidents should use their power to create, not destroy. To revoke our national monuments — especially in order to make way for industry such as logging and mining — is to disrespect the Presidents of the past and to show contempt for our nation’s history and our citizens, past and present. We hope the Interior Department does not set a dangerous precedent in giving the President power to abolish our important national monuments.

Week Fourteen: National Immigrant Justice Center

“Extreme vetting” is the process of performing more rigorous security checks on individuals trying to enter the U.S. such as demanding cell phone contacts, social media passwords, and answers to questions regarding ideology. These cell phone searches are already occurring at the U.S./Mexico border, and the current administration is considering expanding extreme vetting to entry points across the country. The administration’s actions so far to ban and restrict immigration and visitation are already harming the U.S. economy. Tourism experts predict a $1.6 billion loss in direct economic spending from Mexico alone resulting from travel deterred by U.S. policy. European and Asian travelers also report being less likely to visit the U.S., and early signs show a 7% decrease in travel likely with current policies. The economic impacts could be even more substantial if extreme vetting is implemented.

This week, we donated to Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). For three decades, this important organization has been dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. NIJC provides legal services and public education, as well as advocates for policy reform. The organization serves over 8,000 people per year and achieves a 90% success rate in obtaining asylum for individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries.

We are a nation of immigrants, and our democracy is built on the principles of freedom and justice. These “extreme vetting” policies infringe on individuals’ privacy and create an insider/outsider mentality that portrays the United States as a nation of fear and exclusiveness. We believe that organizations such as the NIJC are especially crucial during this divisive time in our history, helping to protect people in danger of persecution and violence, and working to secure justice for immigrants facing discrimination. We all come from an immigrant heritage, and we need to help each other. As George Washington himself said: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…”

Week Thirteen: Molly’s Medical Fund

Health care is back on the current administration’s agenda. Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) has put forth an amendment to the original American Health Care Act (Obamacare replacement) to win over the conservative House Freedom Caucus. The amendment would allow states to obtain waivers for the pre-existing conditions clause and “essential health benefits” clause which covers items such as emergency services, maternity care, mental health, and substance abuse. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the original American Health Care Act would lead to 24 million more people uninsured, and the new amendment is not expected to improve upon that number. The House GOP hoped to vote on the revised bill Friday, which did not occur, but a vote could come any day. Here’s a petition asking Congress to “put their money where their mouth is” by putting themselves in our shoes when it comes to their health insurance.

This week we donated to Molly’s Medical Fund on GoFundMe. We don’t know Molly, but as a non-salaried voice teacher and contract singer she is a big supporter of Obamacare. Her friend Stephanie says, “Our vivacious and formidable friend, Molly Young, was recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Thanks to the insurance provided by the Affordable Care Act, she was diagnosed early and her doctors are optimistic about her recovery. But first she has a long road of treatment ahead of her…” We are sending Molly our love, good thoughts and best wishes for a full recovery.

In the Declaration of Independence, it states that three of our “unalienable rights” are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We feel that all three of these ideals are impacted by access to affordable health care. Quite simply, Obamacare has saved lives. If 24 million people lose their health insurance; if people with pre-existing conditions are unable to find affordable health insurance; if women’s health services and mental health services are cut — these changes will harm the lives of millions of people. Everyone deserves the freedom inherent in securing medical care for themselves and their loved ones. Everyone deserves the happiness and comfort of knowing that, should a medical problem arise, they will be able to take care of it without going bankrupt. We donate to Molly’s Medical Fund this week in honor of the people we know who have devoted their lives to caring for others as doctors and nurses; and in honor of the doctors and nurses who have personally cared for us during our lives (in particular the NICU doctors and nurses who saved Dallas’s life when she was a preemie).

Week Twelve: Friends of the Library

One of the plethora of items on the chopping block on the current administration’s “America First” budget is funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This federal funding, in combination with other federal arts and humanities funding, makes up far less than 1% of our nation’s budget — yet IMLS funding is able to support a wide range of services in public libraries throughout the country. Examples of these worthy services include summer reading programs, helping veterans transition to civilian life, resources for blind patrons, as well as job skills and computer coding courses. You can show your support for our public learning spaces by using the #SaveIMLS hashtag on social media to advocate for sparing federal funding for our nation’s libraries.

This week we donated to the Friends of the Castro Valley Library in our town. There are nonprofit, membership-based Friends of the Library chapters in many communities, large and small, throughout the country. You may already be involved with the chapter where you live. Friends of the Castro Valley Library raises funds for public library services and advocates at local, state, and national levels for public support of libraries. They keep an inventory of over 2,500 books and other media which they regularly turn over, donating additional books to deserving organizations throughout Alameda County.

Both of us have fond memories of visiting libraries as children, and we continue to do so today. Libraries are a foundation of learning, providing free and equal access to education. If knowledge is power, then libraries are a cornerstone of empowerment. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” Our local library is a hub of our town, where people come together to learn from one another, take part in community programs, spend time together as a family, and more. Libraries are community treasures!