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.

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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Week Five: Natural Resources Defense Council

Following January’s highly-publicized memoranda approving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, in February three pieces of environmental legislation quietly moved through Congress to Trump’s desk. On February 3rd, the House passed H.J. Res. 36 to reverse the  Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule “Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation” and sent the resolution to the Senate. The threatened BLM rule targets the reduction of methane emissions, which are at least 25 times more potent than CO2 emissions as a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. On February 14th President Trump signed into law H.J.Res.41, which canceled an SEC regulation that required oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments. The intent of the SEC regulation was to prevent bribery, embezzlement, and the exploitative extraction of natural resources by government officials and oligarchs at the expense of a country’s citizens. On February 16th, President Trump signed legislation ending the Stream Protection Rule, which protected waterways from coal-mining waste.

This week we donated to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit that works to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. The NRDC utilizes scientific research, litigation, advocacy, community partnerships and business innovation to realize progress in program areas such as energy, climate change, oceans, and food. Recent NRDC victories include receiving commitments from Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Subway to eliminate antibiotics from their meats; achieving ivory bans; forcing the chemical company Mallinckrodt to clean up the tons of toxic mercury they dumped into Maine’s Penobscot River; securing millions of acres of protected habitats; negotiating the designation of Atlantic coastal waters off-limits to drilling; and brokering climate commitments at COP21 in Paris.

We are passionate believers in the importance of protecting the environment. This is our one and only planet Earth, and we humans are steadily and recklessly depleting its resources — and then ignoring and denying the obvious impacts of our behavior. We humans are just one species that calls Earth home, and yet we are disrupting the homes of countless other species and destroying the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems that existed long before we came onto the scene. We believe that protecting our environment is the biggest and most pressing issue for our children and future generations. Human structures and powers and problems come and go, but our planet is permanent. This is one thing we can’t fix or get back. Given the actions of the current administration, our Earth needs us to be its voice and to fight for its health more now than ever before.

Week Four: Operation Hope

On February 3rd, President Trump signed an Executive Order delaying the fiduciary rule that requires financial advisers to disclose conflicts of interest and eliminate hidden fees. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently bashed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which was set up in the wake of the recent financial crisis to protect consumers. Moreover, Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, plans to move forward with legislation to substantially reduce the strength of the CFPB. In its short six-year tenure, the CFPB has returned over $11 billion to wronged consumers, fined offending companies over $500 million, and provided the means for consumers to reach an agency to help them. In the past six years alone there have been more than 1 million complaints filed, and over 9% of the U.S. population has received relief from a CFPB enforcement action. Here is a link to a petition you can sign imploring Congress not to gut the CFPB.

This week, we donated to Operation Hope, a non-profit organization that brings financial literacy to low-wealth communities. They serve 4,000 inner-city schools and 500 low-wealth communities. Operation Hope teaches young people basic financial literacy with the goal of helping prevent the vicious cycle of poverty. This robust organization strives to make free enterprise work for everyone. They empower youth to speak the “global language of money” and become informed participants in economic exchanges, including launching small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.

Executive actions against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do not just affect some of us — these actions could negatively affect ALL of us. It is alarming that this Executive Order so blatantly favors Wall Street croneyism while harming the hard-working Americans of Main Street. When you get down to it, money is a resource of empowerment. In these times, we believe it is more important than ever for us as individuals to educate ourselves about our finances and stay vigilant to conflicts of interest — and to do everything we can to help educate and equip each other. Our economy is a complex web that connects us all, and we are stronger together.

Week Three: Sandy Hook Promise Foundation

H.R.34, the Safe Students Act, was introduced to the House on January 12, 2017. This bill repeals the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which prohibits any unauthorized individual from possessing a firearm in a school zone. The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 313-1. In addition to H.R.34, on February 1st White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the current administration will continue to explore Executive Orders to support campaign promises, such as removing gun-free zones. Gabby Giffords, former Congresswoman and victim of gun violence, has an advocacy organization that started a petition to uphold existing gun laws.

This week we donated to the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity that was started by several family members of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that claimed the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults – the third deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Their mission is to prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide, and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless horrific loss of their child. The Foundation builds a national base of parent, school, and community organization supporters who raise awareness and deliver programs to prevent gun violence in their communities. These programs include gun safety and storage practices; advocacy for gun safety laws; and mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals.

We believe that “the right to bear arms” needs to be taken into present-day context, and that when our Founding Fathers wrote the Bill of Rights they were not envisioning guns being used on school grounds. Schools and guns simply do not go together. It is hard to remember anything more chilling than the news of the Sandy Hook massacre — in fact, that event was what inspired Dallas to start her “year of kindness” challenge because she needed to do something in response to senseless violence and immense grief. We must do everything in our power to ensure that it never happens again. The Gun-Free School Zones Act is a vital protection of our children, and the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation is an important resource and legacy for future generations.