Cuba: Marriage Equality

As the daughter of a communist party chief, Mariela Castro, whose father is Raul Castro (and the niece of Fidel Castro), is just the advocate the LGBTQ community needs in Cuba. For most of the 20th century, communist parties have been proponents of the LGBTQ community and have been the earliest advocates of their rights. Therefore, it’s about time that Cuba updates their laws to include gay marriage as constitutional. As one of the leading gay rights activist in Cuba, Mariela plans to draft charters and create amendments to Cuba’s 1976 constitution this summer.

Homosexuality was not always celebrated in Cuba especially before their revolution. Many men were targeted with harassment and faced criminal charges for homosexuality. After the revolution, many homosexuals fled to Miami to escape persecution. Some were forced to work in camps during the UMAP program. However, by the late 1980s and the early 90s, the attitude toward homosexuals changed with even the country’s leader Fidel Castro urging Cubans to be more accepting of homosexuals as it was a natural tendency that should be respected.

Mariela has had other successes while being a gay rights activist in Cuba. In 2005, she proposed a law that allowed transgender people to receive sexual reassignment surgery and change their legal gender. This proposal became law three years later in 2008 and now transgender people can become their true gender free of charge. If anyone can get a law to pass to allow same-sex marriage in Cuba, it’s her.

 

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What is the California Dream Act?

The California Dream Act was put in place by California state legislation in an effort to allow AB540 students to apply for financial aid in public colleges and universities of California. In other words, the act was put in place to allow undocumented students to obtain financial aid from a public educational institution. This will help young men and women across the state further their education. Since AB540 was passed in 2001, other bills have been passed that assist undocumented students in gaining financial aid. The California Dream Act, and the bills that have been passed along with it, have made an impact on many, many lives.

What Bills go Along With the California Dream Act?

AB 540

AB 540 is a bill that was passed in 2001. The bill was put into place by Assembly Member Marco Antonio Firebaugh. AB 540 allows undocumented students to be exempt from paying out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities in California. This bill has allowed undocumented students from around the world to attend college for a reasonable price.

In order to be eligible for AB 540 consideration, the student must meet the following requirements:

  • Be enrolled in a California high school for three or more years
  • Graduate from a California high school or receive the equivalent degree (GED)
  • Submit a written promise to the public college or university where they currently or plan to attend. The statement must include that they meet all of the requirements and that they are taking steps to becoming a legitimate citizen.

AB 130

AB 130 was passed in 2012. The bill allows eligible AB 540 students to receive institutional aid, like scholarships, from a public college or university of California. The aid that is granted must be derived from non-state funds.

AB 131

AB 131 was passed in 2013. This bill allows eligible AB 540 students to receive financial aid while attending a public college or university in California. The aid for AB 131 is allowed to be partially derived from state funds. Undocumented students can access AB 131 funds by either applying for scholarships through the public college or university and/or apply for financial aid from the state. When applying for financial aid through the state, the California Student Aid Commission has set up forms, similar to FASFA, to determine the financial need of the student.

You can apply here: Application for Califonia Dream Act.

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Our Modern Day Black Activists

It’s February which means three things: Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day and the thing that we are the most excited about Black History Month. There have been amazing and life-altering activists that are important to understand and learn. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, just to name a few. But why is no one celebrating the black activists that are fighting for black rights currently?

NOTE: We are not using the term African American because not all black people are from Africa. We fight for the rights for anyone who has felt prejudice or racism for the color of their skin whether they come from Africa, the West Indes or other areas in the Caribbean. 

We’ve put together this list of people who are attempting to make a difference in our country right now and who will one day hopefully be celebrated during Black History Month.

BRYAN STEVENSON

Putting his degree from Harvard Law School to good use, Stevenson founded and now serves as the executive director for the Equal Justice Initiative. He has many goals as a black activist but the most prominent being how the criminal justice system is biased towards the poor and minorities. Some of his accomplishments include handling court cases especially those who are faced with the death penalty and advocating for them. He also handles juvenile criminal cases (criminal cases for those under 18 years old) and advocates for them to not be given death penalty or life imprisonment without parole. The EJL’s goals include ending mass incarceration, excessive punishments and bringing to life the racial disparities in how the criminal courts treat minorities.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER

Back in 2010, Michelle released her book The New Jim Crow which also challenged the mass incarceration of the black community in the United States. She points out that even though the Jim Crow Laws (separate but equal) are no longer a thing, most of the black community lives their life behind bars stripped of their fundamental civil rights that the previous black activists we mentioned fought so hard for. Currently, she works for the ACLU and continues to shed light on how our criminal justice system is biased towards people of color.

MELANIE CAMPBELL

Although she has been a black rights activist for over 20 years, she’s still going strong. Her current efforts are running the Black Women’s Roundtable which provides black women with knowledge, skills, and resources that they need to help face the social issues that are happening in their community. These rounds tables help break down public policy, provide leadership training and contact civic education to empower black women. During her spare time, she works with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to help young black voters registaer to vote as wel las encourage them and prevent voter surpression.

As you can see, black activism is still alive and present in our country today. So although Black History Month is important to show how far we’ve come, the reality of the situation is that we still have far to go in order to be fully equal.

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The Silent Asian American Struggle

Sometimes as a white person, the idea of white privilege doesn’t necessarily hit us as hard as we might think. This is not to say we are ignorant of the concept of white privilege or that we believe that racism against minorities is some sort of myth. However, some of the aspects of racism are subtle enough to elude us. Sometimes all it takes is for us to perceive people in certain ways in order for them to conform to those notions as an entire ethnic group – and thus, a new form of racism may be born.

According to a statistic gathered by Clio Chang, 73 percent of the adult Asian American population in the United States was born in another country. First of all, a startling statistic in itself when you consider that, as of 2010, the Asian American population in the United States was over 17 million and has peaked over 20 million as of 2015, according to Pew Research. But, after that, consider the historical significance of the Asian American population. Historically speaking, Asian Americans seem to have one of the quieter backgrounds. African Americans had loud outcries of historical significance during the likes of the American Civil War and in the 1960’s during the fight for civil liberties. Hispanic minorities have had a tumultuous run in recent years, particularly regarding immigration policy and all the racism that has very likely stemmed out of that. Even the Muslim population has faced bitter persecution in the form of flagrant accusations regarding terrorist attacks and this persecution has recently been renewed with vigor in the Trump presidential era in the form of travel bans.

But when we consider the historical struggle of Asian Americans, the history doesn’t seem nearly as turbulent. Yes, there were the internment camps during World War II, where Japanese Americans were rounded up for the sake of “American protection” or whatever the propaganda may have said at that time to justify it. But the history books trail off after that. Is it because Asian Americans had an easier time in the post-World War II era than other minorities? And if so, what did they do differently to avoid our wrath as the racial majority? There was obviously a massive influx of Asian immigrants in this time period if 73 percent of the Asian American population weren’t even born here.

Consider the stereotypes that Asian Americans might carry with them. We’ve all heard the jokes regarding mathematics and music. Clio Chang alludes to the perception of a hard-working people who are known almost predominantly for keeping their heads down. But is this by accident? Chang’s research also uncovered remnants of a newspaper called Gidra that covered extensively the goings-on during the Vietnam War (which also make mention of one or two ugly displays on the part of whites) and the need for the Asian American population to stand up in some form of solidarity.

The fact is that Chang stumbled onto something rather fascinating; there haven’t been many political or social activists of Asian descent in American history. A phenomenon that Andrew Sullivan ironically explains rather well while commenting on airline victim, Dr. David Dao.

Today, Asian Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it?”

While many of these points may or may not be true, it also brings to light America’s indirect influence upon the Asian American people. And Chang suspects that creating such an identity may have had a long-lasting impact with negative implications that could affect the history and ability to affect history on the Asian American population. It emphasizes a community that, courtesy of an apparent need to appeal to the racial majority, has been threatened to lose its own identity and ability to speak out regarding issues that are pertinent to itself. And while it may have had a voice at some point in time (the Gidra newspaper, for example), the voice has become so silenced historically that those who would benefit from hearing it might, as Chang so eloquently says, “not even remember they existed at all.”

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Hollywood’s Accountability Revolution

For decades, Hollywood has been a place where people go to chase their dreams and make it to the silver screen. Unfortunately, because people are so desperate to make it in Hollywood, there has been a creepy underbelly of Hollywood behavior preying on vulnerable actors, producers, writers, and everyone in between.

Allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood have come up every now and again, but after the stunning (in both number and detail) accusations against Harvey Weinstein, victims of sexual assault throughout Hollywood have been given a platform to speak out against their predators.

It seems like every day we are hearing stories about another powerful person in Hollywood abusing that power – from Kevin Spacey to George Takei to Louis C.K.; celebrities we once viewed as relatable and lovable are now finally showing their true colors. Thanks to the bravery of the people willing to come out, we are getting a better picture as to the huge issues present in Hollywood, and how we might be able to fix them going forward.

For the longest time, people in power were able to leverage situations like auditions and closed-door meetings to assault aspiring actors, models, and other Hollywood employees. Even prominent actors, and strong male actors like Terry Crews, were not immune to the receiving end of inappropriate actions from Hollywood executives.

Now that everyone’s story is public, we can create safer situations for people in Hollywood who are just trying to do their jobs. If we are able to get the offenders out of positions of power (and hopefully out of Hollywood altogether), and change the system so that offenders are penalized instead of protected, we can make Hollywood the dream work location that we currently envision it as.

As activists in Los Angeles, it is our job to help the rights of all of Los Angeles’ oppressed. Even if they work in the film industry, and even if they are rich and famous, we owe it to all victims of sexual harassment in Hollywood to change the industry in every way possible to keep more people safe. Let’s keep those in power accountable for their actions.

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Celebrities Who Have Been Arrested For Protesting

We should be thankful for the countless people who have fought protesting for our rights. Many of those people include a number of Hollywood social justice warriors (and of course they fight for a number of other causes as well). They have the money, power, and influence to do things that not all of us can, and many of them have been arrested for protesting in order to fight for many important causes. Here are a few of the celebrities who have been arrested for protesting.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is still fresh in our minds. Shailene Woodley was arrested while protesting its construction on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The tribe explained that the pipeline will destroy grounds sacred to it, while others worry over its threat to the water supply in the area. Woodley was arrested alongside many others, but was promptly released from the Morton County Jail in North Dakota.

Who doesn’t love George Clooney? He’s living proof that how old you are doesn’t make a difference to success. You can do whatever you like at whatever age you like if you take the time to try. A humanitarian situation developing in Sudan in 2012 led to his protest and arrest. He described the continued starving, raping, and killing of citizens by the Khartoum government. He was arrested at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C. for his part in the protest, but his efforts did not go unnoticed.

When West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by New York police in 1999, Susan Sarandon and 219 others were arrested while protesting outside the NY police headquarters. This shooting is especially relevant today, as the Black Lives Matter organization continues to grow and inspire others to stand up to police who are routinely pardoned for the killing of African American citizens.

Woody Harrelson is known for many things, and perhaps one of the grandest is one of the, well, grandest. In 1996 he scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to prove a point: the redwoods are home to millennia-old ecosystems that are unique to themselves, and they should be protected at any cost. At the time, a 60,000 acre redwood forest in Northern California was in jeopardy. Harrelson and a number of other environmentalists were arrested after their protest was completed.

Lucy Lawless, best known for her stunning roles in the TV shows Xena and Spartacus and a number of movies, is also known for her continued participation in the fight to save the environment. This New Zealand native was arrested in February of 2012 after she and others protested the drilling of oil from a ship in the Arctic. She eventually pled guilty to burglary, and was sentenced to a $547 fine and 120 hours of community service. We’re sure she found it a small price to pay for fighting to save the world.

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What is Civic Engagement?

The definition of civic engagement remains a mystery to the vast majority of U.S. citizens, because most of us don’t participate in either the political processes that govern us (aside from sometimes voting, and even that could stand to use more bodies), or our communities. Civic engagement is the act of promoting the wellbeing of everyone we engage with inside of our communities. It’s the quest to discover and promote skills and learning that help us to make a real difference for the communities to which we belong.

Today, such a thing could not be more important. The problem is, if you’re a warrior for social change through civic engagement, you’ve probably already been labeled an evil socialist. Civic engagement is so much more than that, though. The philosophical issue of civic engagement revolves around the individual as part of a bigger machine. Each of us must do our part to ensure the proper working order of society as a whole so that the machine may work more efficiently. These advancements can take place in the realm of civil rights, or the engineering of better ways to live.

If you volunteer at the local soup kitchen, you’re civically engaged. Even a small sacrifice, like lending your neighbor a cup of sugar, is a small civic service that cannot be overlooked. For things to really change though, more of us must seek out ways to better our communities proactively. It doesn’t just happen by itself.

In order to enhance civic engagement, a community requires a forum for its members to discuss new ideas, and a means to quickly implement them as efficiently as possible. Some communities across the country have adopted community-funded projects somewhat like what you might expect from a kickstarter project. These paradigms are being used more frequently, and this has the power to change both our current economic system and the democracy we use to elect politicians to office.

The Internet was a key player in the progress of civic engagement over the past two decades. With the growth of online forums, people have been able to communicate across vast distances in the blink of an eye, and this has helped facilitate faster change on the local level. We learn about better ways of doing things on the other side of the world, and we can implement them here with somewhat less of a hassle.

Other more common forums for civic engagement include school boards, neighborhood associations, and local resource centers. If you aren’t aware that your community has any of these organizations, you might want to find out. You might be surprised the kind of change you can implement when people are allowed to hear new ideas or methods of enacting real change. Such a thing can’t happen on the national level before we get the ball rolling at the local level.

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Hilary Swank and Animal Activism

Rising to stardom at a relatively young age, Hilary Swank has become well-known for roles such as Julie Pierce in The Next Karate Kid and Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. Her extended acting career dating back to 1991 (when she was only 17 years old) has garnered media attention the globe over into the 21st century. However, while she may be best known for her filmography, there are other aspects in her life to which she dedicates herself with equal fervor, one of the more prominent areas being toward the treatment of animals.

The most obvious place to start is the Hilaroo Foundation, founded by Swank and inspired by her relationship with a dog she found on set in South Africa. The pup that she later named Karoo (get it? Hilary + Karoo = Hilaroo) had been abandoned and, according to veterinarians that initially took care of her before traveling to the States with Swank, had determined she was riddled with worms and ticks, and she had even been doused with kerosene. Swank attributes her desire to start the Hilaroo Foundation to the dog’s ability to convey a wide variety of emotions in her that sparked a need to give those same emotions to others in need.

The Hilaroo Foundation, at its core, is to unite troubled or passed-over youths with abandoned animals in an effort to offer some emotional stability to each other. United through the program, the child and animal simultaneously undergo sessions of therapy, responsibility training and team-building activities that promote wellness for each other. There are even plans in the works to extend facilities and availability to those in need so they can participate in after-school programs and even stay for week-long summer camp sessions. The long-term goal of this program is to improve learning possibilities through children and rescuing abandoned dogs that might otherwise suffer the fate of kill shelters. With hopes to cycle children through to graduation and give them an opportunity after the fact and helping rescue dogs into permanent homes, the Hilaroo Foundation hopes to bring more children from difficult situations and more dogs from untimely fates into a loving and positive atmosphere that can extend deep into their later lives.

Apart from being active with her foundation, however, Swank also takes a more hands-on approach with rescuing animals. She has been known to foster puppies out of Louie’s Legacy, a program that relocates dogs and cats from shelters into temporary foster homes before they can be placed in forever homes. Swank had recently fostered two golden retriever pups named Mulder and Scully, with plans on keeping one of them and finding a good home for the other.

Swank is also known for her positions as a spokesperson on behalf of programs and companies with deep connections to animals and their well-being and legal practice management software. In 2009, Swank was also approached on being the spokeswoman for the Iam’s Home 4 the Holidays adoption campaign, a campaign in which she actively participated when she adopted a golden retriever mix named Rumi.

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Bob Barker and Animal Activism

How many of us were able to watch The Price is Right when we were younger? Back when Bob Barker hosted the popular daytime game show? Does anyone remember the quip he snuck in frequently right before the credits rolled?

“Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population.  Have your pets spayed or neutered.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t simply for the sake of screen time.  In 1979, at the age of 56, Bob Barker became a vegetarian and, a couple years later following the passing of his wife, became highly involved in animal activism. He credits her for getting him involved and notes that she was far ahead of her time in recognizing animal rights.

It was shortly after this time that he began ending segments of The Price is Right with his famous phrase, and it carried over – even covertly – into other events that he hosted. Barker had been a part of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants for a 20-year period before stepping down due to the pageant’s refusal to remove fur prizes from the program. The quiet rebellion and on-screen activism was only the beginning of Barker’s campaign to advocate for animal rights. Eventually, he would take a much more prominent, center-stage role.

While too old to contribute to animal activism in any particularly physical form, Barker has been known for dedicating millions of dollars toward various programs, even founding his own charity the DJ&T Foundation, in 1994 which sponsors animal rescue and park facilities across the United States as well as funds neutering programs to – as you guessed – help control the pet population. He had also spearheaded studies toward animal rights in 2004 by donating $1 million to Columbia University, which had gone toward funding an adjunct professorship in animal rights law as well as opening a student clinic in environmental law.

Barker eventually became more deeply involved at the base level, visiting various sites of suspected animal abuse, including a Cherokee reservation which maintained three separate zoos. Barker had alleged that one of the zoos maintained a poor living atmosphere for one of their bears and formally requested the exhibit be closed before involving PETA in an investigation of the site. While no wrongdoing was found on part of Federal investigators, it was clear that Barker was no longer taking a backseat with his work toward more humane animal rights.

2010 was a particularly eventful year for Bob Barker’s efforts, the same year that controversy arose involving Japanese whalers’ activities in the Southern Ocean, an area frequented by whale populations and prohibited for hunting by the International Whaling Commission. Barker had privately funded efforts in the amount of $5 million to accommodate a ship in the effort of intervening with the Japanese whaling fleet that was said to have operations there. In recognition of his contribution, the ship’s crew christened it MY Bob Barker.  Barker also funded a helicopter to be added to the fleet.

Barker was also known for a $2.5 million contribution to PETA toward building and renovating an office in the Los Angeles area, a project finally completed in 2012. The building officially opened under the name Bob Barker Building, an homage to his generous contributions.

Beyond these, Barker is known for his contributions toward various universities to fund animal law studies as well as his conservation efforts, from ceasing experimentation on cats to relocating circus lions, even to intervening at the state level to advocate against cruelty to pigeons in Pennsylvania. And while many remember him as the charismatic game show host of The Price is Right, many others in particular institutions know him for his unceasing efforts toward the ethical treatment of animals.

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The First Classical Feminist

Feminism has evolved over the last couple centuries.

It is fair to say that classical feminism has done much for women in many Western nations and in developed countries. Voting rights, right to own land, get educated and have a job, are all things that many women take for granted now.

While many in America know about the Suffragettes, headed by Susan B. Anthony, around the turn of the 20th century, but the concept of suffrage and other women’s rights were voiced in various societies well before the movement that allowed the female vote in America thanks to the 19th Amendment in 1920. It wasn’t just in America the issue was important to half the population.

A British woman named Mary Wollstonecraft in the 18th century was one of those activists.  She was only with us for 38 years, but she was a prolific writer and philosopher, most known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, in which she argued that women were only inferior to men due to education, but that men and women should be treated as equally rational beings.

She was one of the first to preach about equality among the sexes.

She died just days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who became the famous author Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. Her mother was married to one of the early founders of the anarchist movement, a man named William Godwin. Before marrying Godwin, however, Mary Wollstonecraft had a couple of affairs and had a daughter from one of them, a daughter named Fanny Imlay.

The most vocal early classical feminist, Wollstonecraft was an educational advocate, especially in the education of girls. She, her sister and a friend, combined to open a school for girls to give them a proper formal education, and she later wrote a pamphlet about her experiences in 1787.

She had been an anti-marriage feminist, joining her husband Mr. Godwin in stating marriage as a “tyranny,” especially when it comes to women being less educated than men and thus becoming tyrants in the house with children and servants. Wollstonecraft realized early on that she was not one to be a housewife or a domestic, so she left a position as a governess and returned to work as a writer, author, and advocate. Despite the “tyranny” of marriage, Wollstonecraft and Godwin married while she was pregnant with their daughter.

Besides writing A Vindication, which was in itself radical at the time, she also wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Women, which was a missive that advocated women embracing their sexual selves, and that it was immoral for women to hide their sexuality. As modesty was all the rage at that time, her ideas generated a lot of buzz for their controversy.

She knew how to generate headlines, at least.

She was a celebrity of sorts in women’s social circles during the late 18th century, and she faded into the memories until the 1900s, when some suffragettes brought up her work in their push for voting rights in the United States. She also became a source of study during the new feminism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

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