March 31, 2009

Five Things You Can Do to Become an Advocate for Women's Economic Justice...

In follow up to our “American Women and the Great Recession” series, we here at Make Social Change a Reality wanted to give you some simple, yet important, things that you can do on your own to become an advocate for women’s economic justice and affect change!

So, where should you start? Well, there will be many opportunities in the coming year to make your voice heard and join the movement to create economic justice for women, and we have listed the top five…read on for more information and follow the links below to take action!

(1.) Get educated and know your facts. What are the issues, and what are the policy changes that need to occur in states and on the federal level to give women a better shot at economic equality? There are some fantastic organizations out there in the non-profit world that conduct research, gather information on women and families, and produce great resources on women’s economic issues and getting women and families out of poverty. Check out a few examples:

· The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) – provides information on economic justice issues, including childcare reform, healthcare, workplace fairness, pay equity, child support enforcement, strengthening social security and a host of other issues. Click here to start reading their “Platform for Progress” on building economic security for women.

· The Guttmacher Institute – generates in-depth research and information on just about every aspect of women and girls’ reproductive health, and where and how the United States is greatly lacking in providing access to sexuality education, family planning information and services for women and girls, and how this contributes to poverty in the US. Click here to start reading a recent Guttmacher report on how expanding the national family planning system would reduce poverty among women and families, unintended pregnancies, and the number of abortions each year.

Many of these policy organizations offer advocacy toolkits, complete with talking points and writing guides, in order to help you take the next step in your advocacy, which brings us to #2…

(2.) Reach out and let your voice be heard – This is budget season. Contact your state legislative offices and/ or your national representatives in Congress and the Senate, and tell them that you care about women’s issues, and that women and families should not be forgotten in this year’s budget. Cuts to health and human service programs tend to hit women and families the hardest, so get involved. President Obama has included expansions for education, family planning, and economic security in his budget. Click here to read more on the President’s budget, and let Washington know that you are listening.

(3.) Volunteer your time – Programs that serve women and families are always in need of help, and especially during these economic times, when organizations have to downsize, cut spending, and utilize their resources in more creative ways. Find a local women’s shelter, afterschool program for girls, etc. and volunteer your time: it is a mutually beneficial way to help women with instant results that you can see! For opportunities in your area, check out these great volunteering sites:
· Idealist.org, http://www.idealist.org/
· Volunteer Match, http://www.volunteermatch.org/
· United Way, http://www.liveunited.org/
(4.) Expand your network and get involved – Join a local or national organization, such as a YWCA or the Younger Women’s Task Force, that stands up for women’s rights and advancement, and you will meet other advocates, be kept up to date on recent policy issues and developments, and be informed on how you can continue to take action. Don’t wait for someone else to join, they need YOU! Check out Idealist to search for women-focused groups and organizations.

(5.) Join the movement – Attend an event or conference for women’s advocacy this year, and you will be energized and empowered to keep fighting for women’s economic success. Several national organizations, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), are dedicating their entire national conference agendas to women and economics this year…and don’t be turned off by the price tag, many of these conferences and events can appear expensive, but there are usually opportunities to apply for scholarships, carpools, and travel-sharing in order to make them more affordable for people, especially young people, to attend.

Well, what are you waiting for? It looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you – no seriously though, even if you just picked the one step that is most important or feasible for you from this list and acted on it, your move to action will make an impact. Be sure to check back in with Make Social Change a Reality and let us know how you are doing with your advocacy on behalf of women!


Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

March 26, 2009

Water Water Everwhere and Not a Drop For Free

“If the wars of [the 21st] century were fought over oil,
the wars of the next century will be fought over water.”
—Ismail Serageldin, former VP, World Bank, Newsweek, 1995.

The 5th annual World Water Forum was held in Istanbul this past week to facilitate discussion of international water policy among corporations, NGOs, and international financial institutions in the context of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Waiting to meet them were throngs of demonstrators holding banners reading “Water for Life, Not for Profit,” looking into the face masks of riot police three deep. Underlying the strain is the contentious issue of water privatization.

In the 1990s governments began inviting private corporations to run their water infrastructure for a profit, the idea being that private enterprise would be much more adept and efficient than any government bureaucracy at getting the water to where it had to go. Unfortunately, many of these huge transnational corporations, a major player being Bechtel, a subsidiary of the infamous Halliburton, were caught in the midst of some serious hanky panky and many of these privatization “experiments” resulted in disaster for everyone involved, the brunt of the fall of course being taken by the poor. Take, for example, the incident of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

In 1999, the Bolivian government turned over control of their water infrastructure to Bechtel in the hopes that it would save them a little money and improve existing problems with infrastructure. Soon after their take over, Bechtel reneged on its infrastructure promise and hiked prices up 300%, meaning that many Bolivians whose family income was no more than $100 per month were now forced to cough up $20 per month for water alone. Bechtel coldly replied that if they couldn’t pay the water would simply be turned off. Outraged, the citizens of Cochabamba revolted and ran Bechtel out of town. Bechtel lost major profits and is now suing Bolivia’s government via the World Bank to recoup its losses.

The World Bank and IMF are STILL pushing water privatization as the answer to the 2.5 billion people without improved sanitation facilities, the 200 million people that get sick due to waterborne diseases, and the 2 million people that die each year from using unclean water. The same UN report that published those figures on March 22, also warns that increases in population and climate change, coupled with demands for more food and energy production, are depleting the planet's freshwater supply at an unsustainable rate.

Unsustainable: market demand for finite resources drives up the price and encourages speculation by vulture corporations, as it goes for oil, will it go for water? Now we are back to the protester’s slogan, water for life, not for profit.Water, unlike oil, is necessary for human life. If all of it is owned by TyranoCorp, how will those who cannot PAY UP afford to live? Clean water is a HUMAN RIGHT and the UN should recognize this in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights just as it recognizes the right to be free from slavery.

The privatization experiment has already shown that corporations are primarily successful in getting clean water to the middle and upper class because that’s where the money is, while the urban poor, particularly women and children, who cannot pay those heavenly bills, are stuck in the same situation. Granted that government control of water infrastructure has not accomplished much either. Is there a way to meet in the middle?

They’re a lot of solutions out there, many of which put the onus on better collaboration between governments and localized NGOs. Find out more about the debate on world water at www.foodandwaterwatch.org.


This post was written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer, volunteer blogger for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to ultraEchelon@gmail.com.

March 23, 2009

Educational Investment, Part I: President Obama sheds light on education reform



President Barack Obama spoke before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10th, offering more details about his plans to improve education. In 2008, American students once again ranked below many of their international peers on standardized tests. The President built his campaign on the idea of change, and it is obvious that the archaic system of American education is in dire need of just that. The question is: what does good change look like?

It starts with early childhood education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act promises an addition $5 billion to Early Head Start and Head Start programs. While the money promised will help states fund new programs and improve those in existence, is it enough?

To make post-secondary education more affordable, President Obama has said he will increase the cap on Pell Grants by $500. He has also briefly outlined a program that would do away with private lending for student loans, replacing it with a program run by the Education Department that would lend directly to students through the schools they attend. However, with rising tuition in addition to the costs of books and housing, will this money really enable more students to attend college or university?

Charter schools, which function similarly as other schools but lack much of the bureaucratic red tape, have been a hot button issue among teachers and policy-makers alike. President Obama wants to remove caps that limit the number of charter schools per state, as well as make it easier to quickly and efficiently shut down charter schools that are not doing well. Will the President be able to go up against members of his own party, and will charter schools really help improve the quality of our country’s education?

President Obama has suggested applying competitive market strategies to education by offering successful teachers increased salaries. Teachers unions have been overwhelmingly against merit-based pay for a number of reasons. Although both the NEA and AFT have voiced their willingness to work with the President on his initiatives, prepare for some heated debate regarding competitive teaching salaries and the standards used for measuring success in the classroom. Will he be able to reach out to teachers unions and institute merit-based bay? Will it help?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan advocates lengthening school days and terms, keeping schools open up to twelve hours per day, 365 days per year. However, this extra time won’t necessarily translate into more classroom hours. Instead, Duncan suggests inviting nonprofit organizations like the YMCA into schools to create after-school community centers where education continues after dark. Will local governments, students, and parents support extended school hours?

These goals of the new administration have been received with a mixture of enthusiasm and criticism. Next month, the President will not only elaborate on these initiatives but also provide a list of which defunct educational programs will be cut in the coming year. In upcoming posts, we’ll delve further into just how American students rank in comparison to their international peers, and if the initiatives above can feasibly bridge that gap. What will it take to prepare our next generation of thinkers to compete in the global job market?

This post was written by Allison Tritt, a former high school English teacher, volunteer for Oxfam Japan and blogger with Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. She blogs to foster global awareness and remind others that there is always a way to get involved. Please leave your comments or email Allison at ajtritt@gmail.com with any questions.

March 19, 2009

Recession forces Change

The current economic climate is forcing people to take a long hard look at their lives. Unemployment, foreclosures and losses of savings and pensions mean that many people have to change their behavior and lifestyles to acclimatize to this new world order.

A recent story on CNN profiled Ernie Casillas, a former investment banker who has had to face the harsh reality of unemployment. Since losing his high paying job, his upscale lifestyle vanished overnight, forcing him to post a ‘job wanted’ ad on Craigslist. CNN reports:

Casillas said he teared up when he first began typing the message -- that his life had come unraveled so hard and so fast. But ultimately, he said, he decided, "I'm just going to put it out there. I'm not going to be embarrassed. I'm just going to tell the whole world: I'm unemployed, and I need a job today. And the response was great."’

This situation is becoming more and more commonplace where people who were once high rollers now have to seek out a simpler lifestyle to get by. Many of these people are also looking to give back and produce something good out of their situation. Law firms are offering new options for lawyers they are looking to lay off – many are offering them opportunities in the public law sector while paying them a lower salary. According to a report on CNN:

‘"There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coming out of a difficult situation," said Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute in Washington D.C., who began discussions this month with at least 15 corporate firms nationwide about placing unemployed attorneys in public interest firms. The project will get under way in a few months, she said.’

While the economic climate is challenging many, it seems there can be good to come out of it, whether it is through self reflection or giving back to the community. It may end up paying some to seek a silver lining.


This post was written by Katherine Osgood, Director of International Programs at United Planet. Katherine has her own blog focusing on women’s rights issues and is a volunteer blogger with Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project.

March 18, 2009

Pay It Forward with a Blog Award

"This blog invests and believes the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."


Our good friend Dwana over at Healthier, Happier, You was kind enough to give us this award. It's folks like Dwana and all of you that keep us going. All of YOU keep us striving to make social change a reality.


We're honored. Thanks Dwana!


What do we do now? Simple...Pay It Forward!


So, without further ado, the award goes to:


1) Katherine Osgood at Women fighting for Women

2) Emily Kronenberger at New Wave Grrrl

3) Julia at How I Changed the World Today

4) Poverty News Blog

5) Rizwan at The Urban Survival Project

6) Don Griesmann at Don Griesmann's Nonprofit Blog

7) Holly at Gonna Make a Change

8) The Green Girls

March 17, 2009

The Ocean Around Us

I am reading a book about the many objects that wash up along the shores of the United States and the world. The author discusses her enjoyment with finding these treasures, whether they are sneakers that have fallen off a ship traveling from Korea to the west coast of the United States, wood from sunken ships from hundreds of years ago, gold coins from pirate ships from over 100 years ago, or bottles with messages inside them.


In addition to these “treasures,” the author explains some of the more troubling findings through her travels, plastic. Plastic, one of the greatest inventions of all time is also one of the most biologically harmful to the environment.


Plastic is everywhere in our world, and unfortunately that also means in the oceans and natural areas where they shouldn’t be. In her book, the author shares her findings of plastic everywhere in the oceans, not just along the shores but in the middle of the oceans, caught in currents and passing from one current to the next, affecting the wildlife that interacts with it.


Many people are unaware of the many pollutants that make their way into the oceans on a daily basis. Science and the car industry have made great strides to clean up the emissions that cars give off, why not use the same technology to the ships and barges to help clean up the waters around the world?


I’m not asking for everyone to clean up the oceans and if you see garbage or plastic on the shore to pick it up because that would be a never ending job. What I am asking is that the public demand large corporations that ship their goods across the oceans and lose their cargo during storms to foot the bill for clean up, or, to not overload their ships so that the cargo crates won’t fall off the shop. That would be a start.


How can we as a society ensure that these corporations are held responsible for the pollution they add to the oceans?


Written by Matthew Reid, volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. A native New Yorker, Matthew now lives in Boston and works for a math curriculum development company.

March 16, 2009

Insult to Injury: How Hospitals Hustle the Uninsured

Hospitals are charging self-pay patients two, three, and four times what they accept as full payment from insurance companies, simply because they can.


Medical debt saddled 72 million adults in 2007 and caused HALF of all personal bankruptcies in 2005. With the recent surge in jobless claims the number of uninsured and under insured self-pay patients is steadily rising and hospital ERs are seeing more patients seeking primary care. Those whose income disqualifies them from community assistance programs even by a hair may face unfathomable costs for their stay at the hospital. While insurance companies fork over a reasonable amount over the actual cost of care to the hospital and Medicare even less, people who can least afford to pay are charged the most. A procedure that may cost the hospital $6,000 would retail to the insurance companies for $8,000 and to a self-pay patient for $12,000! Talk about kickin’ ‘em when they’re down!! And it’s all legal.


A typical hospital bill for a self pay patient is conjured in a black mass, resulting in an indecipherable and meaningless arbitrary assignment of questionable charges to questionable procedures such as $127 disposable mucous recovery systems (tissues) and miraculous births by men who happened to be having heart surgery at the same time. The actual costs of all these procedures are unknown to anyone but the hospital and so we are at the mercy of their discretion.


They deliberately mystify the billing process, assuming that patients will not ask questions or be too intimidated by bureaucracy to pick a fight. And they’ve only become more aggressive in squeezing blood from stones. Hospitals have recently begun turning collection over to credit companies straight off the bat who charge high interest rates and ruin credit ratings.


So what’s been done about it? In 2005, an investigation was held by the Senate Finance Committee led by Senator Chuck Grassley to address alleged price-gouging of self-pay patients, including the uninsured and under insured, by US hospitals. The hospitals responded smugly as they admitted to unfair billing practices.


It’s now 2009 and hospitals are still charging a literal arm and leg for their services with full-frontal legality. Nothing has been done by our government to force hospitals to stop gouging self-pay patients aside from a few states that have entered into voluntary agreements with hospitals to make price lists available to the public and anecdotal court victories. For an industry that is known to inflate its actual costs by BILLIONS of dollars every year, this doesn’t seem like much of a challenge.


Who’s still fighting? At the frontline is activist KB Forbes, founder of Consejo de Latinos Unidos, an advocacy organization whose cause célèbre is transparency in hospital billing policies. Mr. Forbes’ organization was instrumental in getting Congress’ attention on the matter, but unfortunately, every substantial Congressional bill proposed addressing hospital price gouging has been struck down.


If you are being taken for a ride by your hospital’s billing department, you can find great resources on KB's websites to fight hospital price gouging and volunteer time or money to force the government to stop this institutional injustice!

For more information: www.Consejohelp.org, www.HospitalVictims.com


This post was written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer, volunteer blogger for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to ultraEchelon@gmail.com.

March 10, 2009

American Women and the Great Recession Series, Part 4 of 4

Today’s post marks the last in the series on women and the economy, and while we are now several weeks out in the post- Economic Stimulus Package world of 2009, there has been no decline in the amount of scrutiny on the Package and its implications for women.

Reproductive health experts for example, were disheartened that the Package, now known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), succumbed to pressures in Congress and failed to expand national family planning program-funding, which would have served as a major cost-savings measure in the short and long-term. In addition, despite countless studies that have questioned the efficacy of abstinence-only education programs and exposed their inaccuracies and harmful messages on gender and sexuality to young people, Congress still increased abstinence-only education funding in the ARRA.

Nevertheless, the public and non-profit sector agencies that serve women and girls in communities across the US are assessing the situation and hitting the ground running to create meaningful change and improvements in the quality of life for women and families going forward. Given the opportunity to affect change within the existing funding under the ARRA and the health and education spending provisions in President Obama’s proposed budget, women’s advocacy organizations, especially those that work to empower women and families with lower incomes and reduce poverty, are generating new policy analyses and proposing their own methods of accessing funds for much-needed programs.

This forward thinking on post-stimulus issues and programs include a wide range of women’s policy priorities, including expanding quality childcare in states, increasing funding for family planning, eliminating abstinence-only education funding while funding programs that teach both abstinence and contraceptive methods for youth in schools, and many more:

“Making Use of Economic Recovery Funds: Child Care Policy Options for States,” Center for Law and Social Policy, National Women’s Law Center: http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/ccdbg_arra_policies.pdf

Policy Analysis and Action around Expanding Federal Family Planning Program in the Federal Budget, National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association: http://www.nfprha.org/main/index.cfm?Category=Main&Section=Main

Recommendations for Expanding Services Under Medicaid and Bolstering Title X, The Guttmacher Institute, http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2009/02/23/index.html

No More Money Campaign, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US, http://www.nomoremoney.org/index.cfm?pageid=956

A New Day: The Obama Administration and US Health and Reproductive Policy, The Guttmacher Institute, http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2009/03/04/index.html

Although many individuals and families are suffering in the midst of this deep recession, which may worsen before it improves, we can only hope that when the economic downturn lifts, our society will emerge stronger and our shared interests and greater good will be better served by a significantly raised collective consciousness. As we move into a new era, hopefully one of recovery which will lead to greater transparency, accountability, and security, we are told by economists that our way of creating livelihood will have to evolve, and innovations in all industries and sectors will need to be made in order to navigate the changing world’s economy.

In the same vein, public and non-profit agencies that serve and advocate on behalf of women and girls will also need to become responsive in new ways to shifting economic circumstances and join this evolution. Call me optimistic, but it looks like they already have begun.
_________________________________________________________

Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

March 9, 2009

Time For Change?

More than ten years after his death, rapper Tupac Shakur's influential track "Changes" is still in rotation. Known for being one of the greatest rappers of all time, it is no surprise that his lyrics carry messages easily relatable to current issues within our society.


Tupac rapped in the mid-nineties that; "its war on the streets and the middle east / instead of war on poverty they got a war on drugs."


Those two melodic bars touch upon issues that effect all of our daily lives. However, for a multitude of reasons these problems are often overlooked and devalued.


Fortunately, we as a united people, have elected to recognize that these issues need to be addressed. Some have concluded that these problems will not go away without the right leadership. We have elected Barack Obama as our first non-white president.


He presents to our nation a change in ideological properties, and breaks down many embedded stereotypes. Sadly, such a momentous part of history is tainted by the lack of momentous change in society, including a recent controversial dialogue from prominent black role model and activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who used the word "nigger" and mistakenly spoke on a live microphone negatively (and offensively) about Barak Obama.

How much change is really going on? We move two steps in the right direction to fall three steps backward; this is not the change we need in order to resolve our issues.


The ignorance within our society is holding us back from our full potential. With mainstream music encouraging us to "turn a crack rock into a mountain", "get silly" and "superman that hoe" - what exactly is being taught? Are enlightening lyrics like those in "Changes" even going to help? How many people stopped selling crack after hearing "Changes"? How much did gang violence decrease? How much did the population of incarcerated blacks decrease? How much CHANGE for the better came from this record?


How much CHANGE for the better will come from having Barack Obama as president?


It is up to SOCIETY to change.


The right leadership is meaningless without the right following. We are quick to "pass the buck" and blame the government, the poor people, the rich people, the blacks, the whites, etc. Issues like pollution and global warming are the responsibility of each and every member of society.


Fortunately, we are indeed going in a direction that promotes humanitarian & community awareness. Unfortunately, not fast enough!


Written by Charity Activist and Market America Unfranchise Owner, Daniel Rechel. Daniel is also Co-Founder of The DON, a brand of great importance dedicating 100% of its profits to charity..