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On Thursday March 2nd, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repealed a ban on using lead ammunition for hunting in areas under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service including wildlife refuges.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We see absolutely no reason that the ban of lead bullets should be repealed.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!

Week Eleven: Coral Reef Alliance

The current administration has proposed massive budget cuts to marine programs. The 17% cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) include the elimination of the Sea Grant program, which distributes federal funds to states with oceanfronts and along the Great Lakes. This includes Hawaii, which has coral reefs stretching 1,200 miles that make up 85% of the U.S.’ reefs. Coral are living organisms which are very sensitive to temperature changes. Climate change is increasing ocean temperatures, leading to widespread coral bleaching — a condition that causes the organisms to turn white and become more susceptible to disease. In addition, increased carbon dioxide from cars and other human sources is dissolving in oceans, creating ocean acidification. Even small decreases in ocean pH hampers coral’s ability to absorb the calcium carbonate they need to maintain their skeletons and survive. Various studies have calculated that the world has lost one fifth to one half of its coral reefs since the early 80’s. Here’s a petition to save the Sea Grant program.

This week, we donated to Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, CA with a global reach. CORAL protects and restores coral reefs in partnership with the communities that live near them. CORAL develops custom solutions for each community, focusing on sustainable development and tourism, reef management and education, the reduction of overfishing, and helping communities benefit financially from conservation. For example, in 2016 in Roatan, Honduras, CORAL improved water quality by connecting 188 homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment facility and treating 82 million gallons of sewage and wastewater. CORAL’s work benefits coral reefs and surrounding communities in Hawaii, Mexico, Honduras, Fiji, and Indonesia.

We believe that the work done by CORAL is so important because healthy coral reefs are a crucial part of a healthy planet. Not only do coral reefs contain incredibly diverse ecosystems and provide habitats and shelter for many marine animals, they also protect our coastlines from the damaging effects of tropical storms and surge water. In addition to this, coral reefs are such a stunning and special part of our environment! We loved our experiences snorkeling around coral reefs in Hawaii, reveling in the beauty of the fish and sea creatures we saw there. We can’t imagine our world without coral reefs, and we need to do everything we can to help protect them.

Week Ten: Legal Services Corporation

The current administration’s proposed budget released on March 16th eliminates federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The LSC serves a similar role in civil cases as public defenders serve in criminal cases. The 6th Amendment requires public-defender systems to exist, but there is no constitutional mandate for civil legal-aid programs. LSC helps Americans with troubles including domestic violence, housing and foreclosure, and predatory financial practices such as debt traps.

So this week, we donated to LSC, which is a nonprofit organization that receives federal funding. Since 1974, LSC has promoted equal access to justice and provided grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans making at or below $14,713 for an individual or $30,313 for a family of four. LSC-funded programs help about 2 million people per year, but demand far outpaces supply — evidenced by legal aid offices needing to turn away 50% of those seeking help. In 2015 alone, out of 62.5 million eligible Americans (based on income), LSC was able to handle 755,774 cases including 116,074 domestic violence cases.

Even though there is no constitutional mandate for civil legal-aid programs, we believe that access to legal aid is a basic right that every American deserves — for civil cases as well as criminal cases. Can you imagine trying to handle a court case on your own, without being able to afford legal help? Without equal access to legal representation, the principals of justice and freedom that our democracy is built upon will begin to erode. That is why Legal Services Corporation is so vital to our nation, and why this organization needs our support to continue their important work even if their federal funding is eliminated.

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.