Week 25: The Bignamis

The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE) passed the House Natural Resources Committee on September 13th. Currently firearm silencers require a special license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but this bill would relax that requirement and instead treat silencers like guns which only require a federal background check. In addition, the bill would make it easier to transport guns across state lines and loosen restrictions on certain “armor piercing” ammunition. A second bill, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, would allow individuals to carry a concealed weapon in any state if they have a permit in their home state. Here is a petition asking Congress to oppose these pieces of legislation.

On Sunday night, October 1st, Jason Aldean was performing at the country music Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing 59 people and injuring 527 others. Autumn and Frank Bignami are a married couple who teach at the same high school in Southern California and were attending the Las Vegas show. The Bignamis, parents of three young children, were caught in the gunfire. Frank suffered a grazing gunshot wound to the wrist, but Autumn was shot in the face and back leaving her in critical but stable condition after undergoing multiple surgeries. This week we donated to a crowdfunding campaign that was set up on the Bignamis’ behalf to raise money for Autumn’s medical expenses.

It is difficult to put into words the feelings of outrage, grief, and helplessness we feel after learning about the devastation in Las Vegas — all due to one insane murderer. As Dallas’s father Woody wrote in his powerful column for the Ventura County Star (which you can read in its entirety here) our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment with flintlock muskets in mind, not modern-day assault rifles. The famed Boston Massacre, when eight British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians on March 5, 1770, resulted in three dead and two mortally wounded. In Las Vegas, a massacre by a lone crazed gunman resulted in 59 deaths and 527 wounded. We believe that it is unconscionable and fatally irresponsible to consider loosening gun regulations in our country. We need to head in the opposite direction, tightening up gun regulations and making it as difficult as possible for crazed, violent people to get their hands on these military-grade weapons. How many more of these horrific events need to happen before enough is enough??

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Week 24: Environmental Defense Fund

On July 18th the House passed H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, which contrary to its name actually delays the implementation of 2015 regulations that called for stricter control of the air pollutant ozone. The 2015 regulations lowered the allowable levels of ozone that states cannot exceed. In addition, this new bill reduces the EPA’s assessment of the health effects of ozone from once every 5 years to once every 10 years. Supporters of H.R. 806 claim that the 2015 regulations place an undue burden on industry and do not take into account jobs and the economy. Ozone in the upper atmosphere protects people from harmful solar radiation, but high concentrations of ozone near the Earth’s surface destroy crops, aggravate asthma, and can increase the risk of pulmonary diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. The American Lung Association, National Medical Association, and other medical groups oppose H.R. 806 and refer to it as the “Smoggy Skies Act.” The bill’s Senate counterpart, S. 263, is currently undergoing hearings but faces stiffer opposition than in the House from Senate Democrats. Here is a link to a petition to voice opposition to the Smoggy Skies Act.

This week, we donated to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that works to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. EDF utilizes research, policy, partnerships, and economic incentives to drive environmental progress. In recent years EDF reformed decades-old chemical safety laws, reduced toxic chemicals in consumer products from retailers such as Walmart and Target, introduced an innovative sustainable fishing method, drove research and policy limiting emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane on 245 million acres of land, and created a new conservation tool known as “habitat exchanges” to protect threatened wildlife.

We believe that the current administration’s negligent environmental policy and attacks on science will have devastating consequences for not just our generation, but all future generations. This earth is our one-and-only home, and we need to care for it well and fight for its protection. This is not just a matter of politics. It is a matter of life and health for our planet, our people and our future.

Week 23: Transgender Law Center

In the early morning hours on July 26th Trump tweeted 3 times in succession, in full stating: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.” The costs of the approximately 15,000 U.S. transgender soldiers has been estimated at $2.4 – $8.4 million annually, representing at the most 0.0013% of the defense budget. To further put this cost into perspective, a Government Accountability Office report determined that Trump’s visits to his Mar-a-Lago golf club cost taxpayers about $3.6 million each. At that rate, Trump’s 11 Mar-a-Lago trips already taken as President have cost taxpayers about $39.6 million – over 4 times more than the highest transgender soldier cost estimate. Sign this petition to stop Trump’s ban on transgender military service.

This week we supported the Transgender Law Center (TLC), whose work reforms law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. TLC’s many programs include TRUTH, a national trans and gender nonconforming youth storytelling campaign that aims to build empathy, understanding, and a movement for youth to share their stories in their own words. Recent TLC legal victories include a unanimous Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allowing transgender student Ash Whitaker to use the boys’ restrooms, and a settlement backed by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for a federal worker in Texas who was denied health care coverage.

We believe that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Trump’s treatment of our transgender community is despicable and unjust. To attack soldiers who serve our nation, putting their lives on the line to keep us safe, is unbelievably wrong. We all need to stand up and speak out in support of our transgender citizens–especially for those who serve in our military. They need to know, more than ever before, that we are proud of them and and are grateful to them.

Week 22: RAINN

Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education are planning to roll back Obama-era Title IX guidance regarding sexual assault on college campuses. DeVos states that too many students have been wrongfully accused and treated unfairly. Candice Jackson, civil rights head at the Department of Education, said that “90 percent of sexual assault cases fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right’.” Jackson later apologized for the remarks and said she is a survivor of sexual assault herself. The 2011 guidance outlined how federally-funded colleges must meet their obligations to prohibit sexual discrimination to comply with Title IX. This guidance includes publishing clear procedures, employee training, prompt responses to accusations, an equitable complaint process for accuser and accused, and protection against retaliation for those who report an assault. We believe that the civil rights chair at the Department of Education should not be dismissing the stories of student sexual assault survivors. If you agree with us, here is a petition you can sign demanding that Candice Jackson be fired.

This week we donated to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. RAINN reports that 11.2% of all college students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, and that only 20% of 18-24 year old female student victims report the assault to law enforcement. The organization states they have helped 2.5 million people since 1994, including over 175,000 in 2016 alone. RAINN provides Victim Services, Public Policy, and Public Education via news and truthful storytelling through the entertainment industry and survivor spokespeople. Victim’s Services includes a 24/7 hotline available in multiple languages. In 2016 they spearheaded the Justice for All Reauthorization Act which increased the use of DNA evidence to solve thousands of open rape cases.

We believe that it is crucial to protect victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and to promote a culture on college campuses where everyone feels respected, valued and safe. The 2011 guidance on how federally-funded colleges must meet their obligations to prohibit sexual discrimination is a step in the right direction; DeVos and Jackson are willingly turning a blind eye on victims of sexual assault and are moving our college campuses backwards when it comes to equality, justice and safety. The Department of Education is meant to educate students to help them live happy, healthy and productive lives. DeVos and Jackson should be champions for student victims of sexual assault, not dismissive of them. Now more than ever, the important work done by RAINN is a lifeline for countless individuals, and we are proud to support their work this week.

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.