In the first installment of our Visionaries Project, we interview brilliant writer, activist, and horror buff Sherronda J. Brown.
The Visionaries Project is a new subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of writers and activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of powerful, diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.
As our first installment of the Visionaries Project, we're beyond honored to feature Sherronda J. Brown, an incredibly eloquent and brilliant journalist and activist currently doing vital work in the media sphere.
Where did you grow up? Was there an activism or writing background in your childhood?
I grew up in a small town called Tarboro in Eastern North Carolina. I don't have an activism background from my youth, but I have always been a writer. My mom still has a stack of little books I wrote as early as Kindergarten and first grade.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into writing and journalism?
I don't think writing was much of a choice for me. I think it's something that just lives in my bones and my fingertips. If I wasn't writing about systemic oppression and its multiple arms, I'd almost certainly be writing in some other capacity, probably in entertainment media or true crime. Definitely true crime. Hell, I might still do that one day.
My foray into journalism was more like being pulled into it. I have always shared my views on social media, specifically Facebook, and eventually people started to follow me and root for me. To my surprise, my words touched people. I wrote briefly for a now-shuttered, indie feminist website (for free!) while in college many years ago, but my presence in this world really became solidified when current Managing Editor at Black Youth Project (BYP), Hari Ziyad, gave my writing a home at RaceBaitR and later encouraged me to write for BYP as well. Then, the Deputy Editor position came along, and Hari encouraged me to take another step. The next step was Wear Your Voice (WYV), where I was promoted to Managing Editor by founder Ravneet Vohra before I even knew what hit me. And here I am. Other people recognized my talents and potential before I did. They knew I could do this before I even knew it was an option. Shout out to imposter syndrome, and shout out to the people who helped me get here.
How did you get involved with Wear Your Voice? What work do you do for it, and what's the publication about?
Lara Witt, the current EIC, posted a call for pitches on social media and I submitted a piece about an indie film I had been really impressed by, The Keeping Room. This was just after the release of Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled, and I argued that The Keeping Room—while an imperfect film—succeeds where Coppola's film fails, specifically in her erasure of an enslaved Black woman character from the Civil War era South in order to ensure that the Confederate white women are seen as indisputable victims within the story, rather than cruel enslavers. The essay did very well, so much so that the writer and producer, Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz, reached out to thank me. That was a surprise and, of course, hugely flattering. From that point, I continued to write for WYV as a freelancer, until I got the courage to ask Lara if she needed any editorial support. She advocated for me and helped me become a part of the team, beginning as a part-time Social Media Manager. I will always, always be so grateful to her for that, especially because WYV is such an amazing publication to work for. I now get to say that I serve as the Managing Editor of a bold magazine that wholly embraces me and gives QTBIPOC space to talk about our experiences without tone policing or censorship. It's incredibly rewarding and therapeutic work for me.
The bio for Wear Your Voice cites Kimberlé Crenshaw's definition of "intersectionality." How would you define intersectionality? Has your understanding of it changed over time?
A lot of people misunderstand or wrongly define intersectionality, and I suppose I used to do the same. Once upon a time, I thought of it as a literal intersection, with multiple roads meeting and touching at a particular point, with each road being a different aspect of a marginalized identity. So, one road would be Black, one would be woman, one would be queer, and so on, and they would intersect with each other. In this visual representation, the points where they intersect would be the nucleus, where all the layered oppressions one experiences are most concentrated, for lack of a better phrase.
Now, I understand how wrong I was. Because, for a queer Black woman, Blackness is never separate from woman, is never separate from queer, and so on. More specifically, Kimberlé Crenshaw developed this theory and coined this term thirty years ago for Black women to think and talk about how we experience misogynoir. Intersectionality is specifically for Black women's benefit, and Crenshaw herself has told us not to use it as a blanket term for thinking about oppressions.
What do you mean by "digital activist," as you say in your bio? What potential do you see in digital activism going forward?
It's funny, I didn't realize that I was a digital activist until someone told me I was. I guess, I didn't really understand the true impact that my words were making. One of my favorite anecdotes—or maybe it's a testimony—is from a woman who said that my writing helped her get her teenage daughter to stop bleaching her skin. That made my heart sink and sing at the same time. People reach out to me periodically to share how I've helped them to think about things from a new perspective and better understand how oppressive systems work and even how they have participated in and benefited from them. That's the best reward for me. A lot of people don't consider digital activism to be valid. People like me often get called "armchair activists" as an indictment of our supposed laziness, which is quite an ableist sentiment. There is tremendous value in digital activism, whether or not people are physically or mentally healthy and able enough to contribute to "boots on the ground" work, and I don't just say this because I consider myself one. Think about how much information gets shared across social media by marginalized people that might not otherwise be reported on by the mainstream media. Digital activism can and does enact change in its own way, and there are plenty of examples.
If you see yourself as a resource for awareness or inspiration for activists and radical thinkers, what would you recommend to others looking to get into the type of work you're doing?
I know this is easier said than done, but take the leap. Shoot your shot. Send that pitch email. Read other people's work, digest it, process it, live in it. And then, find the gaps. With any given subject, there's always someone who has already written about it, of course, but there are always things left unsaid, views left unexplored. No one person can tackle every possible angle. Find the gaps that other people inevitably leave in their work and fill them. Address the unaddressed. That is how writers can set themselves apart, in my opinion. That's what I really appreciate as an editor and a reader.
Are there any projects or current topics you want to promote?
We are currently wrapping up our Summer of Sex campaign at WYV, a series that highlights perspectives of QTBIPOC [Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color] on the subject of sex and the things surrounding it. The piece I contributed to this is rather personal, maybe more personal than anything else I've ever written. In it, I do what feels for me like heavy lifting on the subjects of unhealthy sex, asexuality, celibacy, and fawning as a trauma response, as all of these relate to my personal story and life experience. These are topics I rarely see talked about openly and I would like to see others engaging with them as well.
You describe yourself as a "reformed Blackademic." What was your experience in academia and why did you choose to move towards digital media?
I had no idea I would end up here. For a long time, I thought I would be an academic, and I had plans to pursue a doctorate. The bureaucracy and high pressure of the institution turned out to be something I wasn't cut out for, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I call myself a reformed Blackademic because stepping back from academia allowed me to see how elitism and inaccessibility can sometimes be a barrier to connecting with our own communities. If my work isn't accessible to those outside of higher education, then I don't think it's actually doing as much work as we might assume. This isn't to say that there isn't value in academic thought and high theory. Of course there is, and the things I learned while pursuing my degrees absolutely continue to inform my current work. I'm just more intentional about making my work accessible, as much as I can, and I will hopefully continue to make more progress in that arena through digital media.
What are your favorite writing projects or stories you've covered over the years?
My favorite projects are the ones that allow me to blend my passion for entertainment media with my radical, leftist, Black feminist, anti-capitalist philosophies. I'd say I'm currently most fond of my analysis of Thanos and his flawed Malthusian logic system about overpopulation and my laments on the unfortunate pattern of Black horror stories and Black time travel narratives that seem to only contemplate white violence as a constant fixture in our lives.
You've written a lot about your interest in horror and haunting narratives. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I became interested in hauntings in grad school, in terms of how the ghosts of history continue to haunt our lives everyday and how we see those ghosts manifesting in oppressive systems, and these things often show up as literal ghosts in cinematic haunting narratives, like literally any film that uses a "Native American burial ground" as a way to convey danger and terror for white protagonists only to ultimately subdue the ghosts rather than truly acknowledge and hold accountable the violent white colonialism that created them.
Candyman (1992) is also a prime example with the vengeful ghost created from a lynching, and it is one of my personal favorites, despite it ultimately being yet another story of a frightened white woman being lusted after by a Black man. Choosing favorites is always difficult, because it changes every few years, and I love so many. Train to Busan (2016), Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), Hereditary (2018), and The Babadook (2014) are some of my contemporary favorites, but Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) are longevity faves.
When you say "new voices" in horror, I immediately think of Jordan Peele, of course, who has two amazing horror entries already, which are among my favorites as well, and is sure to bring us more. He's tapped Nia DaCosta to direct his Candyman "spiritual sequel" expected in 2020, and I am ecstatic about a Black woman directing such a huge mainstream horror film. It would be a dream to see more Black women, more queer folks, more trans folks, more disabled folks at the helm of these stories. I want to see people who have historically been largely relegated to monstrosities in horror giving us innovative tales that subvert the status quo and rattle us in new, challenging ways.
You write a lot of content that challenges hegemonic, white supremacist narratives and ways of reporting and understanding current events; for example, the idea that climate change is new/just beginning to show effect, or that BIPOC women's bodies haven't always been byproducts of white supremacist violence. What writers, sources, or strategies have helped you challenge these hegemonic narratives? What kind of anti-oppression work do you see coming to the fore and/or still needing to be done in terms of this?
My first piece of writing that went viral viral was "White Women In Robes" on my personal blog, werdbrew. It was a critique of The Handmaid's Tale's use of harms committed against BIPOC in a story that centers white women and white feminism's historical connections with white supremacy, among other things. Dorothy E. Roberts' "Killing the Black Body" greatly informed that piece of writing, and anything else I've written about the reproductive control of and expectations for Black people. I also carry Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Angela Davis with me daily, and the spirits of Harriet Tubman and Zora Neale Hurston. The voices of Patricia Hill Collins, Nina Simone, and Toni Morrison are always with me when I write about Black womanhood. Some more recent entries that have inspired me include Tressie McMillan Cottom's "Thick" and Sabrina Strings' "Fearing the Black Body," both amazing and important works. I just think Black women are so brilliant and so uniquely able to Illuminate ugly but necessary truths about our world. Black women are already doing crucial anti-oppression work, and always have been. People just need to listen.
You write that white dystopian narratives align with the "destruction of the dominant white society, the disruption of the white heteropatriarchal family unit, and the downfall of post-colonial civilization as a whole" in one of your reviews. What kind of disruption would you like to see, and are there any images of the future that you imagine seeing through and beyond this disruption?
That is the kind of disruption I like to see. In a perfect world, we would finally get to see all the remnants of white colonialism gone, but unfortunately that is not our reality. I don't mind at all that dystopian narratives involve this kind of destruction in the fantasy world, especially because the destruction of a society where white supremacists hold political, economic, and social power only creates possibilities for the rest of us. My issue is that these narratives—with the exception of The Girl With All The Gifts (2017)—never explore those new opportunities or acknowledge the fact that QTBIPOC already live in a dystopia in the real world.
Still from "The Girl With All the Gifts"pressinfo.com
Are there any particular voices or groups you'd like to see highlighted in our current cultural moment?
I absolutely want more QTBIPOC voices. More fat, disabled, neurodivergent folks being heard and respected and humanized. More sex workers, more undocumented immigrants. I want to hear more from the younger generation, too. The people who get silenced the most are the ones who need to be elevated the most.
What's your everyday routine like? Where do you like to do your work or write?
I'm actually working to embrace my nocturnal nature these days, and I'm fortunate enough to have a career that allows me to do so. What are considered "normal" sleeping hours often serve as my writing time. Some of the best things I've written have come pouring out of me between the hours of 3 and 6 am. I'm either writing in bed or on the couch, and I always write on my phone. I sleep as best as I can, if I can, for a few hours and then I'm up and working again by noon. For BYP, I might be publishing in WordPress and/or desperately searching for good stock images of Black people. For WYV, I might be taking care of daily social media management duties, doing secondary edits or final checks on a piece before Lara publishes, creating graphics, and/or designing and sending out our weekly newsletter(s). For both publications, I might be hopping on a staff video or phone call, brainstorming new content, reading and catching up on the day's news so far, answering emails, evaluating pitches, responding to Slack messages, drafting calls for pitches, organizing my editorial calendar, conducting interviews, checking in with writers, and addressing anything else that requires my attention. The late afternoon and evening is when I rest, recharge, meditate, exercise, and eat. Sometimes, I will do some in-depth editing work on writers' drafts during this time, but mostly I don't start doing that kind of work until around midnight. Then, I plan for the next day/night. I admit, sometimes it's hard to keep track of what day it is.
You do a lot of challenging work. What do you do for fun, and to take care of yourself?
I'm proud to say that I'm much better about taking care of myself now than I used to be. For self-care, I watch horror game play on YouTube because I think it's more fun to watch other people do it—plus it's cheaper and less time-consuming. I spend quality time with friends virtually—ironically, all of my closest friends live far away. I SnapChat with my little sister. I take myself to 4 pm matinees in the middle of the week. I laugh with my co-workers. I support and mentor Black kids. I lift weights. I hit my heavy bag. I eat peanut butter fudge sorbet at 3 AM. I write happy things. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks about true crime, folklore, and history. I laugh at nonsensical memes. I block white people with dreadlocks. I drink plenty of water. I take selfies. I spend entire weekends naked, and I don't let myself work on Saturdays anymore.
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In our era of apocalyptic headlines, it's normal to feel overwhelmed.
We are living in an era of unfathomable news.
Every week, disturbing headlines run parallel in the media landscape. From the plight of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border who, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, are being held in concentration camps to the world's most powerful men abusing their power, we become numb to bad news. When E. Jean Carroll published her essay titled "Hideous Men," in which she recounted how Donald Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, that claim didn't even make the front page of the New York Times.
In her recent New Yorker essay, Jia Tolentino writes that after Trump was elected, her vision of the future looked something like this week: relentless persecution of immigrants and endless bad news met with no nationwide resistance, no mass protests in the streets. "Specifically, I feared that the Trump era would bring a surfeit of bad news, and that I would compartmentalize this bad news in order to remain functional, and that this attempt to remain functional would itself be so demoralizing that it would contribute to the despair and distraction that allowed all this bad news to occur," she wrote. But she hadn't counted on the E. Jean Carroll's accusations, or the fact that "I would be so sad and numb, after years of writing about Trump's many accusers, after watching Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed to the Supreme Court in the face of credible sexual-assault allegations, that I would not even have the courage to read the story for days."
Like Tolentino, I also didn't read the Carroll story for several days. My eyes glossed over the headline, and it barely even had an affect on me, partly because I've lost faith in the possibility that Trump will ever be taken down by the word of any woman. But I also chose not to see it; as I later realized, I have grown comfortable with stories like this. I have learned to compartmentalize media stories like it, separating them from reality so I don't have to think about their implications. In other words, I'm suffering from bad news burnout.
Image via Grazia Daily
I find myself skimming over the news quite often, particularly news about climate change, which is perhaps the most ominous and urgent story of them all. And yet, like the E. Jean Carroll piece, unless I specifically open my mind to thinking about it, climate change headlines appear strangely theoretical when they flash across my screen, almost holographic in their surreality.
I don't think I am alone in this. Though many of us are glued to the news and are actively protesting and engaging with politics, I believe that just as many of us have fallen into a deep hole of pessimism, which often cools to quiet numbness. We grow complacent in our oblivion, and we use it as an excuse to do nothing. And so we go about our lives never really reacting to the news but followed around by a creeping cloud that sometimes manifests itself as anxiety and depression, which often simply echoes in our ears like the whine of a small mosquito.
This whining easily turns into white noise. After a while, we get used to feeling numb and lose all desire to engage. We're exhausted, unable to go on participating and reacting to everything, and so we do nothing.
This is bad news burnout, and it may be one of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation.
Burnout is a very real affliction. Studies have shown that burnout actually affects the brain, with one study finding that an overworked group seemed to have less activity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex than a control group, meaning that the overworked group had less control over executive functions. Burnout can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and it often starts a vicious cycle: People suffering from burnout often don't seek help and are less open to learning new information.
Though normally associated with work, media burnout also exists. News media is known to trigger bursts of the hormone cortisol, which can affect concentration and digestion; it can also affect sleep, having an all-around detrimental effect on one's life and health.
Fortunately, there is research-based advice on how to combat media burnout. As with many afflictions, we can't simply wake up one day and decide that we're not going to be burned out anymore. To combat burnout, we need to develop consistent strategies. We can start by placing limitations on our empathy.
The Issue with Empathy
According to the psychologist Paul Bloom, excessive empathy makes us more prone to burnout. If we feel every injury we read about in the media as if it were our own, we'll inevitably get overwhelmed.
Even if does manage to spur us to action, empathy can even have a negative effect on the way we respond to natural disasters, violence, and bad news at large. An excess of empathy can make us overly attached to the struggles of people similar to us, causing us to ignore larger turmoil in the rest of the world (hence the fact that the media barely blinks at another bombing in the Middle East, but a Paris shooting makes the front page of every paper). It can also make us focus on individual stories, like the plight of a single suffering child, while ignoring the larger issues that cause that suffering in the first place.
Instead of prioritizing empathy, Bloom advises that we practice "rational compassion," which means that we should focus on doing the maximum good for the most number of people, rather than getting too hung up on individual stories.
Put the Phone Away
Even with limitations on our empathy levels, it's incredibly difficult not to grow burned out if we're plugged into the 24/7 news cycle. Obsessing over headlines doesn't actually help anyone, and the importance of limiting your engagement with news and social media cannot be overstated.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep up with the times and do as much as we are able to combat injustices in the world. Actually, staying perpetually keyed to the fluctuations of world events may be detrimental to our ability to think critically about news stories and engage productively with issues. "Understanding anything, including politics, involves longer term investigation and contemplation than we are affording ourselves when we buy into being news addicts," writes Megan Nolan.
In order to do the maximum amount of good and to maintain our own sanity, we need to be careful where we focus our energy and attention. The behavioral scientist Kristen Lee writes that in order to avoid burnout, we need to take care of ourselves by staying grounded, setting boundaries, practicing a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and doing what we must in order to ensure that we have the strength to keep up and take action when we can. Putting down the phone is one of the most important things we can do to shield ourselves from falling into despair, along with focusing on practicing gratitude for what we have.
Ultimately, the point is that we need to learn how to pace ourselves. We need to spend more time off our screens, so that when we do plug in, we can be fully present to digest information.
Self-Care as Conscious Action
Sometimes, self-care can take the form of direct action. With issues like climate change and the camps at the U.S.-Mexico border, direct actions—whether that's political protest, lobbying, donating, or something else—can be the most effective ways to assuage our own feelings of uselessness and guilt, and it can hopefully help heal some of the problems at their core Plus, joining communities that are engaged in active resistance can help us feel less alone in our fear and anger, allowing us to face and process it, rather than letting it control us. As Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through."
For a long time, I avoided thinking about climate change, because I knew if I looked at it head-on, I'd have to do something about it. Since I allowed myself to fully realize the extent of the situation, I've actually felt much more free, able to dive in and learn about the situation, instead of feeling overpowered by a vague sense of hopelessness. Obviously, none of us can engage with every world issue, but sometimes focusing on one or two and taking action is the best form of self-care.
After all, despite our selfish human natures, there's something in each one of us—though sometimes it lies very deep below the surface—that feels we have a moral responsibility to work for a better world for all, that believes it's possible. Sometimes, having the optimism and courage to make small changes is the best way to move forward. According to Angela Davis, "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." Instead of passively accepting the news, we can focus on combating it by creating a better world—or at least we can go down fighting for one.
According to Richard A. Friedman, we can avoid burnout not by withdrawing from the world, but rather by lowering our expectations and embracing the negative feelings that accompany the news cycle. He writes, "I suspect my generation suffered less burnout than the current students for the simple reason that we expected to have a rough ride, and our expectations often turned out to be worse than the real stresses we confronted."
Though this advice may seem harsh, especially because the news today is far more apocalyptic than it was when Friedman's generation was coming of age, there may be a seed of wisdom within it. Today's American millennials face a particularly jarring contrast: In keeping with the American dream, many of us were brought up to think that the world was our oyster, and we had little to challenge our self-centered perspectives. We quickly learned to obsess over success, wealth, and personal happiness. Now that we're being told that the world is on the brink of collapse, we face a completely different reality than the one we were born into.
Many of us have also never been taught how to process emotions in a healthy way. We get hung-up on small injustices without working to understand the larger systems behind them, and that quickly becomes too overwhelming for anyone to bear. Perhaps, if we focus less on our own unhappiness and realize that the world will never be a perfect place, we can focus on making things a little better by doing our small part for the whole.
We're All in This Together
When apocalyptic headlines announce unbearable injustices or threaten our ways of life, and when we realize that not only are humans not the center of the world but that we have almost certainly destroyed it, something glitches in our minds. We can't process what it all means.
But we don't have to rationalize or make sense of all the bad news. Since we are not the center of the world, it is not our responsibility to single-handedly change everything. Understanding this can liberate us to take small actions that will actually benefit ourselves and others if it's echoed by a thousand or a billion other small actions.
It also helps to process what's happening with others. When it comes down to it, there's no way to really comprehend the news as it is today, and almost all of us are feeling lost, confused, and helpless in some way—but we're far from alone in that, and we'll have to help each other develop the skills and techniques to make it through this. By maintaining our connections to our communities, both locally and globally, we can develop networks of support that can help us survive and thrive in these strange times.
Bernie is talking about voting rights, but is this the most important issue facing offenders?
Bernie Sanders has gotten some attention, and a lot of criticism, for proposing that people currently incarcerated, on probation, or parole should have the right to vote.
He even wrote an op-ed about it. Kamala Harris said she supported the idea and then flip-flopped once she realized what a gaffe it was. Vox has an excellent, though undoubtedly "woke" take on the issue here.
This is a legislation that is opposed by 3 out of 4 Americans, which reveals that Bernie is a dangerous, even reckless candidate for the Dems. So many of his views are completely out of line with the mainstream. And we all know who is going to focus on those if he somehow surpasses Biden as the nominee.
Efforts to reform the criminal justice system are vital, but voting rights are just about at the bottom of the list of what matters to offenders. They want access to education and job training and work opportunities that will give them a chance to be productive in the world once they finally get out. The First Step Act was an excellent bit of progress, but there is so much more to do to block the school-to-prison pipeline. Progress is being made at the state level, and there seems to be a bipartisan consensus, aside from Sen. Tom Cotton, to keep reform moving forward.
State by state, offenders need fewer of the tripwires- high bail amounts, fees, fines, drug tests- that get them locked up in the first place or sent back to prison. Overcrowded conditions still abound in so many facilities.
While Bernie dreams of things that few people support, will he draw attention away from needed reform, maybe even turn people against it?
The refugee crisis hasn't gone anywhere. But news outlets and political leaders everywhere are ignoring it—and xenophobia is making it worse.
Around 2015, the so-called European refugee crisis was topping every newspaper headline. Reports of the 5.2 million refugees pouring in from Syria and other war-torn countries that year led to mass calls for mobilization to create infrastructure and support systems for displaced peoples. The photo of Alan Kurdi, the drowned three-year-old who provided a name and face to the crisis, sparked international acknowledgment and inspired humanitarian activists all over the world.
Alan Kurdi, via Medium
But that was four years ago. What has happened to those 5.2 million since then?
Firstly, there are a lot more than 5.2 million now. According to the UN, as many as 63.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of conflict since World War II; and today, roughly eight thousand people per month arrive in Greece, Italy, and Spain from Syria, Guinea, Algeria, and neighboring countries. These numbers are staggering; the lives they describe are almost impossible to imagine. But each figure corresponds to individual experience and a body that likely has crossed countless miles of ocean to arrive on European shores. Though it is impossible to generalize their stories, the majority of these people are currently stranded in liminal places like refugee camps or living as undocumented citizens without access to rights, living wages, and other protections.
According to the Aegean Boat Report, around 20 boats have arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos alone in February 2019, carrying a total of 791 people. Lesvos's Moria Camp holds somewhere between eight to ten thousand refugees; it was initially designed to hold ten. Many have been there for over half a decade, and the conditions in the camp are becoming more and more unlivable by the day.
Moria Camp, via Al Jazeera
Many refugees go through hell and back to get there. Left with no choice but to flee violence and unlivable conditions, many spend thousands of dollars on hiring a smuggler who could carry them across the sea. The journey is treacherous—smugglers sometimes have deals with authorities or even pirates, and recent reports have revealed that the journey is more dangerous than ever before, with 1,600 to as many as 2,730 people dying at sea in 2018. The
UNHCR released a report which argued that although the official number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean fell last year, this was likely due to "reductions to search and rescue capacity coupled with an uncoordinated and unpredictable response to disembarkation." This in turn, "led to an increased death rate as people continued to flee their countries due to conflict, human rights violations, persecution, and poverty." As the world forgets, the little structure and safety netting that does exist inevitably falls apart.
The news is a strange beast. Some stories can dominate for months and fade out so suddenly it's almost like they never happened; particularly shocking acts of individual or random violence can consume headlines while systematic, long-term horrors can fade away, having lost their ability to capture audiences' attention. With countries like South Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan steadily experiencing mass exoduses for years and years at a time, and with the inundation of tragic stories and gory photographs from Syria, it's easy for ongoing horrors to slip underneath an ocean of facts and figures that seem too overwhelming to address.
It's also easy for governments to shirk off responsibility for taking in refugees, seeing as technically they are stateless and, therefore, are not protected by any citizenship rights. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees basic protections for all people on earth, it does not specify which countries are responsible for providing these protections.
But every political decision manifests in lived experiences. For example, when migrants arrive on the shores of Lesvos, they are sometimes met with volunteers who provide water and transportation to the camps. Families and individuals are assigned at random to tents, which are crammed next to each other, creating unlivable conditions.
Image via aljazeera.com
Lesvos, in particular, has an extensive volunteer population, but overall aid groups often work as band-aids, failing to heal the sources of a larger issue and failing to structure a pathway forward. Instead, aid groups and refugees languish on Lesvos, in the grey area of statelessness and global amnesia. NGOs are gradually shifting their focus to working with refugees and locals to develop long-lasting relationships and skills, which can propel migrants forward into new lives.
But in light of the antipathy many locals hold towards newcomers, and also because of the trauma, language barriers, or other struggles that migrants face, the process of adjustment is challenging and will require individualized attention, patience, and cohesive efforts. Reports reveal that the majority of refugees fleeing severe conflicts will have vestiges of trauma; the IRC reported high levels of depression and PTSD among refugees across the board.
A 2011 Oxford University study found that the best way for refugees to move forward is through integration into life in their new countries. Solutions lie in treating the wound at its source, addressing xenophobia, and fighting for fair opportunities to education, jobs, healthcare, and other vital structural support systems. On the other hand, stranding migrants in places like Lesvos—where they live in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, surrounded by strangers who may also be experiencing trauma, with no idea of if or when they will be able to leave—is a product of a collective worldwide amnesia, a refusal to see what is happening in real time.
Long-term, slow-moving challengers are not foddered for breaking news. Particularly massive floods of refugees might pique the interest of a world leader; an artist might draw attention to the crisis through an installation in a busy city; but always, the cycles of violence and erasure continue as the world gets caught up in shinier, brighter topics. But remembering and acknowledging what is happening is the first step to moving in a new direction.
Image via Oxfam Novib Academy
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City.
Choose to give where your money will go the farthest.
Everyone can agree that giving to charity is a worthwhile way to use one's money. But it's not as simple as just writing a check. You want to make sure your money is going somewhere where it'll be put to good use. With so many options out there, how can you make sure you're putting your money into worthy causes? To help you on your quest, we've compiled a list of the top 5 aid organizations to give to in 2019.
Children International is an organization who has the broad mission of ending childhood poverty across the globe. Their primary means of doing this is by allowing donors to sponsor a child, regularly donating to provide the child with healthcare, education, food, shelter, etc. Charity watchdog gives this foundation an A rating, as they offer 84% of their earnings to children in need, with only 16% going to overhead costs.
This organization aims to "maintain and advance civil liberties, including, without limitation, the freedoms of association, press, religion, and speech, and the rights to the franchise, to due process of law, and to equal protection of the laws for all people throughout the United States and its jurisdictions." The ACLU is one of the most powerful groups fighting to protect American citizens today, and decidedly a very worthy cause to donate to.
The National Wildlife Federation aims to protect American wildlife and wilderness by educating Americans about the importance of nature and fundraising money for environmentalist programs. They only spend 13% of their income on overhead, meaning you can be sure your donation isn't going towards some rich person's personal fortune, but is actually going towards protecting America's quickly dwindling natural beauty.
This organization's mission is simple: end homelessness in America. They focus primarily on issues of policy and education, empowering legislators and communities to take steps to support disenfranchised Americans without housing. They give an incredible 92% of their proceeds to their cause, making them one of the most responsible charities on this list.
Suicide is an ever-growing crisis in the United States, but thanks to organizations like the AFSP, people are becoming more and more educated about the truth of mental illness. They raise awareness, fund scientific research, and provide important resources and aid to those affected by suicide.
It turns out national emergencies are very subjective.
The Trump administration has laid bare many of the failings of our government.
All three government branches are privy to partisanship. Our checks and balances may not necessarily work as intended. But most alarmingly, American presidential power might be far less defined than most people realized.
Historically, dictatorial regimes have utilized "national emergencies" as excuses to consolidate and reinforce power. We've seen this playbook employed by Erdogan in Turkey and by Duterte in the Philippines. But could this happen in America? The answer is murky. In fact, national emergencies are murky territory in general, the main problem being that most of the terminology involved is broad and ill-defined.
In a video posted by The Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, explains, "There's no legal definition of emergency, no requirement that congress ratify the decision, and no judicial review." In other words, the decision to declare a national emergency are almost entirely up to a president's personal discretion. Normally, we assume that our elected officials have the best interest of the people in mind, and would not declare a national emergency for personal or partisan political gain. But considering Donald Trump's noted praise of dictators like Erdogan, coupled with his extreme penchant for partisanship, we can no longer simply rely on the president's best judgment.
The question then becomes, "If the president declares a national emergency now, what powers can he abuse?"
1. The Power to Take Over Wire Communication
During a national emergency, the president has the power to shut down or take over radio stations. Assuming there's a threat of war (which, again, can be determined at the president's own discretion), that power expands to any and all wire communications. This executive power was last used during WWII, before most people utilized daily wire communication in any meaningful way beyond the occasional phone call.
Today, given the vagueness and broad applications of "wire communications," declaring a national emergency could allow the president to control Internet traffic in the US. This could include shutting down websites he didn't like, blocking emails to and from dissidents, and altering search results to only display pre-approved propaganda. Doing so would be akin to removing free speech from the Internet, and during a national emergency that would be completely within the president's power.
2. Sanctioning American Citizens
Imagine going to work, only to discover you've been fired because you can no longer legally be employed. You go back to your apartment and find out you're being evicted. So you go to the bank to take out cash for a hotel, but your funds are frozen. Turns out you're on a list of US citizens suspected of providing support to foreign threats. That's the potential reality of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
This act allows the president to declare a national emergency to "deal with any unusual extraordinary threat" that "has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States." It gives the president the power to freeze assets and block transactions where a foreign nation or foreign national might have a vested interest. George W. Bush used this after 9/11 to sanction those being investigated (sometimes wrongly) of helping terrorists. Were a president to declare "illegal immigrants" a national emergency, the implications could be disastrous.
3. Deploying the Military Within the US
The idea of armed soldiers marching down your city street to hunt down civilians might sound like something out of a dystopian novel. But during a national emergency, it could be an American reality. The Insurrection Act states that during a national emergency, the president can deploy military troops inside the US to suppress any "unlawful combinations" or "conspiracies" that "obstructs or hinders the execution of the law." The problem, again, is that the terms are so vaguely defined.
President Eisenhower once used this law to enforce desegregation in schools. But a president with different sentiments could just as easily use it against protestors or undocumented migrants. For instance, if Trump were to decide Black Lives Matter constituted an "unlawful combination" during a state of emergency, sending the army to suppress them would be fully within his power. Alternatively, a sanctuary city harboring illegal immigrants might be interpreted as a "conspiracy" and therefore subject to military rule.
In many ways, the limits of an American president's power during a national emergency have not been tested. On one hand, theoretical checks and balances do exist which could allow Congress to end a national emergency that was being abused. On the other hand, this would require a majority that a largely partisan Senate would likely not have. There also might be opportunities for the courts to block various moves made during a national emergency but, again, the legality here is largely untested.
Ultimately, as citizens, we must keep a watchful eye on our president's actions should he declare a national emergency. And if things go south, we must keep this in mind the next time we vote. After all, when one person who is supposed to represent all of us holds so much power, we must make sure it is a person of strong enough character and mental capability to understand the repercussions of his or her actions.
The 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice fell in her office on Wednesday night.
According to a statement from the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell in her office Wednesday night and fractured three ribs. Initially, the Justice thought all was well following the fall and went home. After experiencing pain throughout Wednesday night, however, she was admitted to George Washington University Hospital Thursday morning.
Her stay at the hospital meant that Ginsburg was not present for Thursday's investiture of Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an event that reportedly drew crowds in protest.
Since her appointment to the court in 1993, Ginsburg has become a pop culture icon, praised by progressives for her liberal influence. In particular, Ginsburg is seen as an opponent of President Trump, whom she called "a faker" in 2016. Since the replacement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, progressives have been particularly concerned as to the state of Ginsburg's health, fearing that her age may force her to retire before Trump's tenure ends, allowing him to put another conservative Justice on the bench.
The next sitting of the Supreme Court begins Nov. 26, and given Justice Ginsburg's history of attending work despite health issues, her fractured ribs are unlikely to hinder her participation. She broke two ribs in 2012 and returned to work the next day. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure; in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer and returned to work three weeks later.
In July, the Justice stated that she hopes to stay on the bench for the duration of Trump's term. "I'm now 85," Ginsburg said. "My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years."
Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation reveals a Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis, making it the perfect time to make it more democratic and accountable.
The bitter confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has left the Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis. This was exposed by the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee, who showed little interest in seriously investigating Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual assault. Democrats were not completely blameless either, especially Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who failed to come forward earlier with Ford's allegation. This flawed confirmation process was ultimately revealed by a sham of an FBI investigation that lasted only five days and never interviewed the alleged victim or perpetrator. Worst of all, Dr. Ford's bravery and sacrifice in coming forward with her story was in vain. What's been revealed is that the Supreme Court is an institution in the midst of a crisis of accountability, and one in need of major reform.
Urging radical changes to the Supreme Court must be on the progressive agenda in 2020 and beyond. If Democratic voters and progressive activists are angry about Kavanaugh's confirmation process, as they should be, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. It is paramount that both common sense and radical reforms be pushed to ensure that the court is more responsive and accountable.
1. Code of Ethics
In addition to facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct, Brett Kavanaugh faces a series of other ethical questions. These range from issues with his finances, such as the strange disappearance of his debts and spending $200,000 on baseball tickets, to issues over potential bias. But, interestingly, there is no ethical rulebook for the behavior of Supreme Court justices.
Kavanaugh is not the first justice to face ethical problems, either. There have been questions of the morality of the justices appearing at partisan events, financial disclosures, and conflicts of interest. But it's now time for the Supreme Court to be subjected to the same ethical standards that Congress is held to. Not too long ago, the House introduced a bill called the "Supreme Court Ethics Act." If Democrats take back the House in November, it's important they be pressured to reintroduce and pass that legislation.
2. Term Limits
If you think about it, the Supreme Court has an unfair share of power. How else would you describe a group of nine unelected bureaucrats appointed for life to shape the laws for 300 million people? It's hard to believe that we still accept the idea that certain government officials should be given lifetime appointments. We no longer accept it for presidents, nor should we accept it for senators and representatives and, especially, Supreme Court justices.
The United States would be wise to join the rest of the world and introduce term limits for its highest court. Other countries have introduced 18-year term limits. An article in Vox argued that term limits would decrease the "partisan warfare" of Supreme Court nominations. Staggered 18-year terms would allow for a new vacancy every two years. Every president would get to nominate two each term. Every 20 years the court would be entirely remade. Term limits could also greatly decrease the likelihood of sudden deaths or retirements, and could introduce younger blood to a court whose average age is the highest it's ever been.
3. Direct Election of Justices
One of the more radical suggestions being widely discussed is the direct election of justices. Up until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, most Americans never considered directly electing senators. This was a major victory of the progressive movement in the early 20th century in making the Senate a more democratic institution. Today, judges at the local level are routinely elected in most places.
The same should be done with the Supreme Court. While the court was originally intended to be above politics, it is anything but that today. The Supreme Court has always been a political body, though it's often been thought of as the least partisan of the three branches. But the moment Brett Kavanaugh spoke about "revenge on behalf of the Clintons" the idea of a nonpartisan court was instantly crushed. If this is the case, it would make sense to subject it to the same standard of democratic accountability as the other branches of the federal government by proposing a national election to fill vacancies.
There are obviously major hurdles to overcome before these changes can become reality. In conservative judicial circles, strict constitutional textualism — the concept that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended — holds considerable influence. Look no further than the Federalist Society, which played a big role in the confirmations of Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. It's crucial that progressives push back against this idea of the Constitution. The Constitution, while being a useful blueprint, should not be treated as a sacred document, but as a mutable, living representation of America's moral and ethical framework.
There's also the question of political will. These changes to the Supreme Court, especially term limits and the direct election of justices, will likely require an amendment to the Constitution. In today's political environment, passing such an amendment would be a Herculean effort. Constitutional amendments don't happen overnight. They often require decades of activism and agitation to become reality. Prohibition and women's suffrage both involved major social movements that triggered cultural and political upheaval, this would have to be similar.
Radical changes to the basic structure of the Supreme Court will invariably face huge opposition from conservatives who will frame such changes as a power grab by Democrats angry about Kavanaugh. They would also face challenges from Democrats afraid of the potential political backlash to such bold proposals. But progressives must fight back against such criticisms. Making the Supreme Court more accountable to the public may not happen for along time, but that's not an excuse to cease pushing the idea. It's crucial push the envelope, as it expands the realm of what's possible.
Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.
The Senate will hold the final vote as early as Saturday
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's chances of landing his Supreme Court nomination reached new heights Friday as the Senate narrowly voted to limit debate and move to a final vote.
The procedure, known as cloture, resulted in a 51-49 vote that saw the majority of senators following party allegiances. Two surprising exceptions were Republican Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who voted 'No,' and Democrat Joe Manchin III from West Virginia who voted 'Yes.' Murkowski's vote is surprising given her FiveThirtyEight "Trump score" of nearly 83%, which is the percentage of how often she votes in line with the president's position on any given issue. Manchin's position is less surprising when you consider his 61% score.
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right," said Arizona senator Jeff Flake.
Lisa Murkowski (AK), called the president's remarks "wholly inappropriate, and, in my view, unacceptable."
The three Senate Republicans holding key swing votes on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination
spoke out on Wednesday against comments the president made at a political rally in Mississippi the night before. "The president's comments are just plain wrong," said Susan Collins (ME).
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right,"
said Jeff Flake (AZ).
At the rally, Trump questioned the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in front of the Committee last week that Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her, and attempted to silence her cries for help when they were teenagers. Mockingly reenacting the questioning, he said, "How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where was the place? 'I don't remember.'"
The president's comments are a far cry from the days immediately after Ford's testimony, during which he called her "a very credible witness," and her testimony "very compelling." When asked by the Committee how sure she was that her assailant was Kavanaugh, Ford answered, "100%." Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.
The president then turned his attention to Kavanaugh, echoing the judge's own testimony that the accusations have "destroyed [his] family and good name," claiming, "A man's life is in tatters" and calling the Democratic party's attempts to investigate Ford's claims a smear campaign. President Trump has been vocal about the need for due process, lamenting that the criminal justice system has become one in which someone is "guilty until proven innocent." Rally attendees were enthusiastic about the president's remarks, despite having repeated their 2016 campaign battle cry, "Lock her up," hours earlier.
Ford isn't the only woman who's accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Julie Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who Ford claims to have been present during her assault, were among a group of friends who would target and drug girls at parties and take turns having sex with them. While Swetnick does not accuse Kavanaugh of participating in her own gang rape, she claims that he was at the party where it happened. Deborah Ramirez, in an interview with The New Yorker, said that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they both attended Yale.
In her opening statement, Ford noted that she was " terrified" to testify before the committee, despite having passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI. Still, both the president, Judge Kavanaugh, and many members of the GOP have dismissed Ford's accusations as false, despite the fact that false rape allegations are very rare.
Collins, Murkowski, and Flake have remained publicly undecided on whether they will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, though Flake called for an expanded background investigation of the nominee and the allegations against him. Controlled closely by the White House, the investigation was closed on Wednesday evening. A single copy of the investigation report was made available to Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday morning, and Collins and Flake have said that they were satisfied with the result. However, the FBI never contacted a number of potential sources and character witnesses who may have been able to corroborate such claims. While the agency did speak with Ramirez, they did not follow up with the roughly 20 people whom she said could provide more information. Over 40 people have contacted the agency to offer testimony, including Swetnick and Kerry Bercham, a former roommate of Ramirez's, but federal investigators never responded.
After the investigation was closed, majority leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion to cloture Kavanaugh's nomination, restricting the amount of time to debate before a floor vote to 30 hours and ensuring that a vote will take place this week.
Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.