Category Archives: Social Change

It’s Time to Save the World

“Is my English OK? Is the microphone on?” asked Greta Thunberg, in one of her most recent addresses. “Because I’m beginning to wonder.”

Laughter from the audience.

It wasn’t a joke. No one seems to be listening.

Nine years ago, when I was Greta’s age, I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t politically, globally, socially, environmentally aware. I wasn’t aware of what our biggest problems were–or that I, as a kid, could do anything about it, even if I did know what was happening in the world.

Nine years ago, I was LARPing (live-action role playing). For those who don’t know, LARP is a game wherein you create a character for yourself, dress up in costume, and run around in the woods at night, fighting faux villains with foam sticks. It’s like playing make-believe in the backyard when you were little, but on a larger scale, with maybe a better production value.

LARP comes in a number of forms, but the game I played was mostly like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fantasy game. Swords and sorcery. Lightning bolts. Storming the castle. All of that.

While I knew that the events in the game weren’t “real” and that the character I played wasn’t “real,” they always felt important. They felt bigger than the small “reality” I actually lived in. I often felt that my character was better than me. She was stronger, prettier, freer. She had more goodness in her; more to give. I wanted to be like her in real life.

This disconnect–the idea that my character was false and somehow separate from me–affected my growth in a number of ways. I could write a book on it. There’s a lot to unpack. But the point here is that even after I managed to quit the game, I had a hard time developing an idea of who I was without that character.

Recently, with the changing of the seasons, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It would be the start of LARP season now, if I was still playing.

I’m still sorting through it, but one of the things that finally occurred to me was that I could be like the heroic character I used to play. I already was like her. She came from me.

But there were still situational differences, systematic differences between that character’s world and mine, dragging me down.

I posted this on Facebook:

larp

And, only days later, the sentiment was echoed by somebody else:

dnd

I’ve been flailing for a solution. Something I could do to help the environment, and reconcile the reality of my apparent helplessness with the idea of once having played at being someone courageous and able to create change.

In this video, Jane Goodall advises people to act locally. “Quite honestly,” she says, “if you think globally, you get depressed.” Break it down, then. Start with what you know you can do. Do something. Even if it might seem small. “We’re all interconnected.”

I’ve been worrying myself sick. I woke up today with a sore throat, and a headache, presumably from my newfangled teeth grinding habit. In an anxious, somewhat dissociated haze, I drove to the store for some groceries, just to get out of the house. Everywhere, meat and dairy. Things packaged in plastic. Delicious things that I only felt bad about craving. I bought one of those chocolate bars that claims to help endangered species, and felt doubtful about its impact, but I hoped.

On my way home, it seemed like all I could see was trash. Scattered along the side of the road, accumulating in the ditches, washed up along the curb. Plastic bags blowing in the wind and caught up in bushes.

Enough is enough.

I found a metal stick–one of those garden hooks for hanging bird feeders or little candle pots–and I filed the end to a point on my dad’s bench grinder. I walked across the street to the park outside my house, and I attacked the garbage in the rain garden. I chased it through the foliage, piercing it with my makeshift rapier, collecting its remains.

Maybe this will help.

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Photo by Robert Stuart Lowden

I’m an adventurer. It’s my job.

And for all the shitheads out there who consume without thinking, and leave their trash lying around; for the people who continue to make a mess of the world, I have just one message:

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The Thing About Taxes

I will preface this by saying I am not well-researched in the areas of politics, national financing, or whatever actually goes into this mess, in the United States or elsewhere.

But I think it might be worth mentioning my thoughts on a few things, based on personal experiences, and some things I’ve heard that just… don’t make a lot of sense.

Taxes aren’t inherently bad.

The word “tax” in itself has come to have largely negative connotations–if you’re being “taxed” by something, you’re being weighed down or put upon. We have classic examples of people, like the Sheriff of Nottingham from the Robin Hood stories, who abuse taxes.

In a truly ironic state of affairs, my dad is adamantly against any kind of raise in taxes, but he also works for the state of Minnesota, and part of our taxes are what pay his own wages.

But if taxes are being abused, for things like… oh, say, a giant wall, or a football stadium… then, yeah, I wholeheartedly understand the aversion.

I don’t think anyone is ever entirely sure what taxes are used for, but there’s obviously some mismanagement going on somewhere, and that’s the bad thing. Taxes themselves? They have some truly positive possibilities.

Let’s just, for the sake of imagination, pretend that a perfect world is possible. What should taxes, in a perfect world (and my opinion) be used for?

  • Protecting/conserving the environment
  • Researching and developing important new innovations in energy, transportation, and health (cure for cancer, anyone?)
  • Providing/maintaining a basic standard of health and well-being for everyone
  • Paying first responders, health professionals, and peace-keepers
  • Educating people well
  • Preserving culture by investing in arts, museums, libraries, archives, and community centers
  • Community improvements, like road construction, parks & rec, etc.
  • Providing some kind of safety net and/or rehabilitation programs for those who are  out of work and/or homeless. (This would include retirement, and being out of work due to an injury, veteran benefits, and other things of that nature, in addition to being in a bad situation for other reasons.)

Some people are really put out by the thought of providing for others. Which… I get, to some extent. At the moment, it’s hard to fathom providing for myself, let alone anyone else in the country–but that’s because a lot of things in “the system” are broken. They’re not being used the way they should.

If I had the peace of mind that came with guaranteed good health, the basic ability to learn the things I need to know without being in debt for the foreseeable future, and the reassurance that life as we know it wasn’t on its way to being toasted out of the Earth like a bad virus, I would happily give away a third or more of my income for the rest of my life.

In a perfect world, what would your taxes be used for?

What would you be willing to provide, to make your own life and the lives of others easier?

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero

Warning: This post contains (mild) spoilers.

Yesterday, Rick and I went to see Captain Marvel in theaters.

Strangely, I’d heard almost nothing about it after it was released on March 8th. The only thing that had passed through my social media was some headline about an old white guy upset about the MCU’s mightiest hero being a woman.

Over dinner last week, my dad, who coincidentally is also an old white guy, and who has not yet seen the movie, expressed his own confusion about Captain Marvel being a woman. Having grown up with the kind of Captain Marvel who starts out as a little boy, shouts “Shazam!” and channels the powers of several ancient male heroes by morphing into a well-muscled, fully-grown man, he wondered how all of that was going to work.

First of all, there’s no reason a girl couldn’t channel the powers of male heroes, given the opportunity–their maleness and their powers are not mutually inclusive. Secondly, I’m not sure what the deal is with kids having to grow into adults in order to use their powers (this also confused me when I first read the W.i.t.c.h. series).

But, most importantly, DC’s Captain Marvel/”Shazam” is not the same character as Marvel’s Captain Marvel. And, as I’ve learned from my good friend Wikipedia (because I am in fact not a comic book nerd), Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel’s civilian identity) has been a fixture of Marvel Comics since 1977, when she first appeared as Ms. Marvel, in a new series of that name, after having gained her powers from events that transpired in the Captain Marvel comics. She finally took up the mantle of Captain Marvel herself in 2012 (although it appears there were a couple other women who also held Captain Marvel’s title and/or powers, at some point or another). So, yes, the first Captain Marvel was a guy, but Carol Danvers certainly has a legitimate claim to the role.

And Marvel nailed it with this movie.

It is the most normal movie I have ever seen.

“Vers” (played by Brie Larson) as she’s known when the story begins, is apparently an alien soldier from another planet, fighting a war against another race of aliens called Skrulls. When the Skrulls capture her and take her to 1990’s Earth (this is a prequel), she works with a young Nick Fury to find and defeat the Skrulls before they can infiltrate Shield and steal an essential piece of technology.

It sounds pretty straightforward, for a superhero mission, but along the way, Vers, who can’t remember anything about her past and has trouble controlling her powers (read: obeying; getting things right), manages to discover who she is and what she is really capable of.

I cried watching her self-actualization play out. This wasn’t a story about a woman being powerful despite being a woman or because she was a woman. This was a story about a human being–who just miraculously happened to look and act like me–realizing their full potential.

Brie Larson is beautiful, make no mistake, but they don’t make her up like a supermodel (cough cough, Wonder Woman), and she’s dressed from head to toe in a practical uniform which sufficiently protects her from both the elements and the vacuum of space. She’s fit, like I imagine anyone with military training would be, but she looks like a normal person, not somebody’s ridiculous ideal.

And our hero’s defining relationship? Carol Danvers’s friendship with Maria Rambeau, a black single mother and badass pilot, replaced what could have easily been a meaningless long-lost love interest, if this were a different movie.

Captain Marvel, despite the horrendous line of advertisement I found on this AMC theater page, is not a “(her)o.” What a strange and belittling advertisement for such an amazing and worthy character.

She is a hero.

Captain Marvel is smart, brave, and human, in addition to having powers on par with those of DC’s Superman. I’m excited to see her take down Thanos in Avengers: End Game next month.

In the meantime, go see Captain Marvel. (Go experience it in IMAX, too.)

Take your friends and your children with you.

Everyone should see this movie.

Should We All Be Scientists?

Last semester in my Information Studies class I was tasked with doing a research paper on something related to information and the way it is changing in the digital age. We had just finished a unit on Wikipedia and so I was curious if there were other platforms like that where ordinary people contribute to something that used to be entirely the purview of experts. I started digging around, googling things I was interested in, and I stumbled upon citizen science. Although I have not yet participated in a project, I have since been in awe of the possibilities this presents.

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole, let me briefly explain what citizen science is. citizen science involves utilizing ordinary citizens in the collection of, and sometimes the analysis of, data for scientific purposes. I will not regurgitate my research paper beyond that, but the potential this creates is vast and then you throw in social media and the potential explodes. Continue reading Should We All Be Scientists?

Is Facebook good for the world?

It is Facebook’s mission to “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” says CEO Mark Zuckerberg to The Verge who also shared that a future mission will “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us”.

Do you think Facebook is good for the world? After taking this class I thought that I would have a more straight forward answer but I was still surprised when I had to think critically about this.

Facebook Pro’s

  • Even playing field, no one starts at a greater advantage or disadvantage
  • Networking opportunities
  • Can reach a global audience FAST
  • Can create opportunity for social change
  • Can reconnect you with people
  • Can save memories
  • Can remind you of memories
  • Can create awareness
  • Good for businness
  • IT’S FREE!

Con’s

  • Once you put it out there. It’s out there
  • What you put out there now can come back to get you later
  • Not always reliable
    • Fact checks are needed
    • How do you know someone is who they say they are?
  • Time consumption (If you or someone you know might have this problem check out Social Media Addiction)
  • Privacy

My pros outweigh my cons. I think the opportunity to create social change is there, it is up to us to use it! I agree that Facebook is good for the world.

I was happy to see that Facebook wants to do better and that they made a comment section so that they can gain insight. This 2 way communication model could provide them with great feedback.

#Freebie #lastblog #SocialChange #ItIsUpToUs #WeHaveThePlatform

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – IN THAT ORDER

So many people get caught up in the recycle part of that old adage, which is the last part of the statement. The last part. That should tell you something.RRR

I think people get hung up on recycling for two reasons: it’s easy and it’s advertised.

The marketing campaigns and city sponsored programs made that a slam dunk. But the thing is, that is on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to actually making a difference.

We’ve all heard stories about how you separate your recycling and then when it gets to the dump or the processing plant, they just throw it all in together anyway. Or that if one little contaminate gets into the recycling that should have been there, the plant will just toss the lot into the dump because they can’t process it. I certainly hope those are just urban legends, but they are probably at least partly true.

Even aside from the idea that just because you put something in the recycle bin at home, doesn’t mean it goes where you want it to, we still have to consider the process of breaking that product down and creating a whole new product. It’s expensive and energy consuming.

Let’s compare recycle to the two, often overlooked, other components of the adage.

Recycle: buy a new product, throw it (or the package) into a recycling bin, and then buy a new product. Lather, rinse, repeat for eternity.

Not only are you spending money on a new item over and over, but the factories keep burning energy churning out new products and the recycling plants keep processing all the waste.

Reduce: buy less and use less.

Saves you money, saves energy from lower production and processing time, saves space in landfills.

Reuse: buy one thing and then use it again and again.

Saves you money, saves energy from lower production and processing time, saves space in landfills.

Hopefully, you can see the advantages of the reduce and reuse part of the equation: it saves you money.

If you’re still wondering how this saves you money, think about just the packaging. Every time you buy a new product you pay for the packaging, again.

Let’s consider bottled water – this is an item that blows my mind when I think about it too hard. Every 20-ounce bottle of water comes in its own package (the plastic bottle) with a lid and label to show the brand. So you’re paying for the water in the bottle (which you could get free elsewhere), you’re paying for the plastic to hold the bottle (which you will proudly recycle so that it can be destroyed and made into a new plastic bottle or widget), and you are paying for the brand name (because water needs a brand?).

A gallon of water is 128 liquid ounces, so roughly six and a half bottles. If you pay even a single dollar for that bottle of water you are paying $6.50 per gallon of water … How much is gas these days? And that’s a cheap bottle of water! Most people are probably paying double what they would for milk or gas for something they can get FOR FREE!!!

Seriously, my brain hurts!

If you want to learn more about the true cost of bottled water, here is a great video by the Story of Stuff team

There are all kinds of products available that you can put free water in over and over and over again. If you’re worried about purity, you can buy a bottle with a filter that can be reused 300 times for under $10. THINK OF THE SAVINGS!What are your Earth, and money, saving tips? Post below, I can’t wait to see all the ideas!

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Save a dollar, save the world #reuse

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#Blog1 #Type1 #BottledWater #GoingGreen # GreenLiving

We Need to Talk About the Eviction Crisis

Why is This a Crisis?

Evictions are a nearly unreported threat to Americans, but an increasing population are experiencing them. It’s long been the standard that people should spend no more than 30% of a person’s income on housing. But a recent Harvard study found just over 21 million households spend more than 30% on housing. 11 million people were reported to be spending more than half their income on housing.

When families spend more on housing, they are forced to spend less on other items. Spending more than 30% on housing makes paying for basic needs like electricity, groceries, and clothing like buying a luxury item. Children and seniors are impacted more from this reality as they are the most vulnerable.

It makes other items we tend to take for granted, like internet access or cars, practically impossible to possess. While that may sound like less of a “need,” consider applying for a job. In this age it’s nearly impossible to apply for a job without the internet. It’s equally as hard to go to multiple interviews without a car.

Matthew Desmond wrote a book called “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” In the video linked here, he talks about the how big of an effect evictions have on American families.

Of that 1/4th that receives housing funding  that Desmond mentions in the video, they have to endure long waits to actually receive that help. The remaining 3/4ths will likely continue on dangerous eviction cycle, which could last for the rest of their lives.

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A Milwaukee eviction of Ara Sprakman

What Can be Done Right Now?

A problem as big as the eviction crisis can’t be bundled up in one solution. That said, there are many promising efforts. Desmond mentioned that people are at a disadvantage in eviction court, as they either don’t show or can’t afford a lawyer. New York City passed legislation to afford legal assistance to tenants. The move resulted in an 18% drop in evictions within a two-year span. The legislation has recently been picked up by Rep. Keith Ellison as a house bill (H.R. 1146), but not much has come of it the current congressional session.

In Desmond’s book, he championed the expansion for Section 8 voucher program. While I fully support that, there are serious issues. The biggest issue is that landlords can legally reject Section 8 voucher funding. This is a form of discrimination, plain and simple, but there still is hope. The Minneapolis city council passed legislation that prohibits landlords from rejecting Section 8 funding. This legislation need to be expanded on the state or federal level. City laws are a short-term fix as they can be overruled by the state law or  withholding federal funds.

How to Take Action

First, there are many groups that have been doing great work in this effort. On Just Shelter, there are links to both local and national resources supporting the cause. Consider volunteering with a group to either assist families or spread the message in your community.

The biggest work that can be done is through our government. Long lasting and sustainable efforts will have to be done through policy. Find your local council-members and mayor and call them. Once you’ve done that, consider calling your congressional representatives, both in the U.S. House and Senate. Remember to stay calm and respectful. Chances are you going to speak to a college intern. They already have enough on their plate. That said, make sure you stress how important affordable housing is to you.

Lastly, we need to do what we can to convince the greater public that housing is a basic human right. People have the right to have a consistent place to sleep, eat, and live. Children and seniors have the right to a place that offers security from harmful elements. Housing doesn’t need to be lavish, but it does need to be there.

Dignity Granted by Survey?

Last fall I attended a rally in support of a protest over Washington’s NFL team name, “The Redskins.” I mentioned my attendance on my Facebook page and only two of my friends “liked” my post.

To be clear, I only have about 60 Facebook friends, but usually when I post something that reflects my values, I receive a dozen or so “likes.” I was disappointed—though not surprised—that posting my participation in the protest would garner less support than usual. It seemed to reflect the reactions to my stance on this issue in the “real world.” We, who are members of the mainstream American culture, can find it difficult to empathize with this issue. With the dominant narrative shaping opinion, matters of humanity and dignity can easily be overlooked.

Surveys

The majority of mainstream America, especially football fans, have expressed a strong desire to keep the team name the same. How do we know? Popular media outlets report on a multitude of surveys to let us know how unpopular a name-change would be. There is even a petition drive to keep the Washington “Redskins” name on MoveOn.org. It states that fans “are strongly against the name change,” and petition asserts three times that the Redskins name honors Native Americans.

But wait! Are the fans or team owners the best judge of which terms “honor” a group of people that are regularly disparaged by the larger culture?

Silencing a Legitimate Voice: A Parallel

I am not Native American. I have not experienced the stigmatized life that most Native Americans live. As a woman, however, I have experienced gender discrimination in varying forms for my entire life. I know when I am being heard and I know when my voice is being silenced.

The practice known as the catcall takes a variety of forms including one or more men calling out that a woman is sexy, whistling at her, or declaring by what method they would like to do her. The catcall is demeaning for most women.

If women were to point out that the catcall is offensive, would the media start a campaign featuring statistics of populations of men who wish to “flatter” women this way in order to legitimize the behavior?

Hopefully not in this day and age! Several decades ago, however, when women’s voices on this issue were finally becoming newsworthy, that is exactly what happened.

Amplifying a Less Relevant Voice

A survey conducted by WUSA9 and USA Today tallied more than 600 people over four days in September last year. Respondents were residents of D.C. and surrounding suburbs. “65 percent of all subjects responded they do not want the team to change its name.” The sample broke down as follows

  • 19% did not identify as sports fans
  • 53% were Washington fans
  • 28% were fans of another team

Sounds official doesn’t it? But these numbers are a distraction.

Rather than percentages of fan affiliation, let us look at the same study’s acknowledgment that “the majority … [found] the word ‘Redskins’ to be offensive in all or some context.”

Popular Opinion Can Justify Bias

Surveys such as these simply reveal a belief that the Native American view is not legitimate. Issues of dignity should not be left up to popular opinion. Especially if the opinions gathered are those who benefit from the imbalance.

Ignorance of the cultural foundations of oppression breeds arrogance and affords ensured privilege and a sense of entitlement to the dominant group. In contrast, humanity is given the opportunity to evolve when empathy rises to the surface.

As humans, we learn from our past behavior and bring that knowledge into our current responses. Isn’t waking up to our transgressions an opportunity to learn empathy and step outside the confines of self-satisfaction?

The Argument for Origins 

One argument to support the idea of “honor” in the MoveOn.org petition drive is the oft-cited intent of George Preston Marshall, the team’s owner in 1932. It is said that he renamed the team the “Redskins in honor of his head coach, William ‘Lone Star’ Dietz, an American Indian. This was done to honor Native Americans not offend them.”

Here, we have the dominant culture asserting control over “the truth” again.

Setting the Record Straight

In the CBS Local article, How Many Americans Think “Redskins” is a Slur, Native American activist Suzan Shown Harjo gives us more to think about.

“Marshall had a reputation as a racist. He was the last NFL owner who refused to sign black players — the federal government forced him to integrate in 1962 by threatening to cancel the lease on his stadium. When he died in 1969, his will created a Redskins Foundation but stipulated that it never support ‘the principle of racial integration in any form.’

“And [Lone Star] Dietz, the namesake Redskin, may not have even been a real Indian. Dietz served jail time for charges that he falsely registered for the draft as an Indian in order to avoid service. According to an investigation by the Indian Country Today newspaper, he stole the identity of a missing Oglala Sioux man.”

Dignity for All

It can be difficult to let go of our understanding of how the world works. We have each invested in a foundation that we depend upon to know our place in the world. The foundation is reinforced by popular culture and reasserted by our belief that we mean no harm.

We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by those “who mean no harm.” Might we hope that they would be open-hearted enough to hear why it was so? Might we offer that same consideration to those who have had the courage to raise their voices?

By the way: The volunteers at MoveOn.org have placed a notice on the “Keep the Name” petition, stating that it doesn’t reflect the values of the MoveOn organization.

Is the World Changing its Privacy Level?

Since the beginning of time there have been gaps in the opinions of older and younger generations. We all remember those arguments with our parents when they would tell us to put away the video games and go outside like they did when they were younger. Opinions related to music, leisure, and dating all vary from generation to generation.

According to the video Growing Up Online, there is yet another gap in the opinions of generations; this time having to do with privacy. It seems younger generations are much less concerned with privacy compared to older generations. Many link this change with the growth of the Internet.

The video highlights the negative effects this may have on Internet use, such as online predators having access to underage children’s information. They cover the bullying epidemic and teen suicide as well.

Surely the effects can not all be negative. What are some positive effects of growing up online? Think about class discussions and how the Internet creates new ways to make social change.