After volunteering for the Obama campaign for over a year, one of the things I felt once he was confirmed as the new President-elect was a heightened sense of social responsibility. This was surprising to me, as I expected a sense of relief after the volunteering was over, but if we take Obama’s public service message seriously, he’s asking for bit more than just our votes.
The entire eight years of the George W. Bush era has coincided with a series of upheavals in my personal life, leaving me little time to consider effecting social change. Having weathered the last recession as a part of the dot-com industry, I was laid off three times within five years, and moved home just as the airports became de facto terrorist screening facilities. With draconian policies such as warrantless wiretapping and torture being endorsed by the outgoing administration, it was all too easy to see our American society and ideals as crumbling and beyond repair. It seemed, why bother?
Now that President-elect Obama has called on us to take a more active part in creating the government and world we would like to see, with the rallying cry of Yes We Can, I feel a direct connection being made to the hopefulness and idealism of the Kennedy and King era, when compelling and principled leaders led people to believe they really could change the world. This is heartening for someone who came of age during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush adminstrations, and who looks back to Carter as the last “scandal-free” Democrat in office. So, no more excuses!
With Obama’s clarion call in mind, here are some causes I find important, that I hope to become more involved with in the coming year. Please take the time to check them out.
END MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL – ilovemountains.org
The recent coal ash spill from the TVA/Kingston Fossil Plant on December 22nd in Harriman, TN, which released decades’ worth of toxic byproducts such as arsenic and lead from sludge into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, is yet another example of why we need to move beyond the absurd idea of “clean coal” and put much more research and work into environmentally safer renewable sources of energy. The 1.7 million cubic yards of fly ash released into rivers and backyards is thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill. The only upside to this environmental disaster is that it may finally provoke the EPA, under an Obama adminstration, to regulate coal fly ash as hazardous waste material.
At the Appalachian Voices website, I Love Mountains, which is dedicated to fighting against the coal industry profiting from environmental degradation, you can write to President-elect Obama, asking him to address the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in the first 100 days of his administration. You can also enter your zip code to see how you may be connected to mountaintop removal (a quick perusal using 24380 shows that Appalachian Power operates six plants directly connected to mountaintop removal on our local grid; the closest is Glen Lyn in Giles County).
TEACHING TOLERANCE – splcenter.org
I originally heard about the Southern Poverty Law Center from my mother, who donated to them regularly and received their Teaching Tolerance materials in the mail. As a woman from Ohio (with a career! gasp) who moved to Virginia in the mid-sixties, she was well aware of the backwards mentality that still lingered in southwestern Virginia, which was suspicious of “Yankees” and generally anyone “not from around here”. I can now see her interest in the group as a way of coping with the isolation she herself felt.
You would think these hate groups would start to realize that hate doesn’t pay. Morris Dees and the SPLC recently won a $2.5 million dollar verdict against the Imperial Klans of America, for an attack on a US citizen of Panamanian descent named Jordan Gruver at the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg, KY in July 2006. He was left with a broken jaw and arm and has permanent injuries as a result. The group of Klansmen who initated the unprovoked assault mistook him for a Mexican immigrant and used racial slurs during the attack.
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups around the nation, provides materials for teaching tolerance in schools, and represents victims of hate crimes in court cases. They have been carrying on this important work for over 27 years, and now take on more relevance than ever, as we see a backlash of hatred directed at minorities following the election of our first African-American President. Concerned about this happening in a “post-racial” America?
Go to the Southern Poverty Law Center website, and add your name to the Stand Strong Against Hate map. Also, you can search there for hate groups in your area, and read a list of hate incidents by state. Finally, a special Teaching Tolerance package has been created for educators, to help deal with racially-charged incidents and discussion in schools – RESPONDING TO OBAMA: America at the Extremes
PEER TO PEER MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT – dbsalliance.org
After seeing the effects that depression can have on families, and personally dealing with depressive episodes for several years, I’m convinced that we need to come together to rebuild our mental health system from the ground up. The Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge or deal with the problem of mental illness in our country, starting way back with Ronald Reagan, has led to a sad situation in which we all take for granted the latest news of some deranged person “going off” and often taking many other lives, along with their own. With the recession/depression looming, it’s unlikely the money will be available soon for an overhaul of our existing system, which is tragically underfunded and could be cut back even more. The good news is that there is a national non-profit organization which helps facilitate peer-to-peer support – a side benefit is that the drug companies aren’t lobbying these peer groups to sell their overpriced medications.
From the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website:
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is the leading patient-directed national organization focusing on the most prevalent mental illnesses. The organization fosters an environment of understanding about the impact and management of these life-threatening illnesses by providing up-to-date, scientifically-based tools and information written in language the general public can understand. DBSA supports research to promote more timely diagnosis, develop more effective and tolerable treatments and discover a cure. The organization works to ensure that people living with mood disorders are treated equitably. DBSA was founded in 1985.
DBSA is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that answers more than 3,000 calls per month on our toll-free information and referral line and receives over seven million hits per month on our website. Each month we distribute nearly 20,000 educational materials free of charge to anyone requesting information about mood disorders. DBSA reaches nearly five million people through our educational materials and programs, exhibit materials and media activities. In 2006, DBSA received more than 1.5 billion media impressions.
PERSON TO PERSON MICRO LENDING – kiva.org
Last year, I loaned $100 to Malofou Lomiga in Samoa, to help fund her handicrafts business. She is gradually repaying the loan. I have never met her or even written to her, but the San Francisco based micro-lending organization Kiva allowed us to make contact. From the Kiva.org About page:
Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.
Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.
The people you see on Kiva’s site are real individuals in need of funding – not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.
Kiva partners with existing expert microfinance institutions. In doing so, we gain access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. Our partners are experts in choosing qualified entrepreneurs. That said, they are usually short on funds. Through Kiva, our partners upload their entrepreneur profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them. When you do, not only do you get a unique experience connecting to a specific entrepreneur on the other side of the planet, but our microfinance partners can do more of what they do, more efficiently.
TIBET WILL BE FREE – studentsforafreetibet.org
The Olympics held in China this past year highlighted the ongoing struggle in Tibet for freedom. From the Students For a Free Tibet website:
The turning point of Tibet’s history came in 1949, when the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) first crossed into Tibet. After defeating the small Tibetan army and occupying half the country, the Chinese government imposed the so-called “17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” on the Tibetan government in May 1951. Because it was signed under duress, the agreement lacked validity under international law. The presence of 40,000 troops in Tibet, the threat of an immediate occupation of Lhasa, and the prospect of the total obliteration of the Tibetan state left Tibetans little choice.
As the resistance to the Chinese occupation escalated, particularly in Eastern Tibet, the Chinese repression, which included the destruction of religious buildings and the imprisonment of monks and other community leaders, increased dramatically. By 1959, popular uprising culminated in massive demonstrations in Lhasa. By the time China crushed the uprising, 87,000 Tibetans were dead in the Lhasa region alone, and the Dalai Lama had fled to India, where he now leads the Tibetan Government-in-exile, headquartered in Dharamsala. In 1963, the Dalai Lama promulgated a constitution for a democratic Tibet. It has been successfully implemented, to the extent possible, by the Government-in-exile.
Meanwhile, in Tibet religious persecution, consistent violations of human rights, and the wholesale destruction of religious and historic buildings by the occupying authorities have not succeeded in destroying the spirit of the Tibetan people to resist the destruction of their national identity. 1.2 million Tibetans have lost their lives, (over one-sixth of the population) as a result of the Chinese occupation. But the new generation of Tibetans seems just as determined to regain the country’s independence as the older generation was.
Since our country’s economy is now so closely tied with China’s, due to our heavy import of their manufactured goods, I think it’s important to note that their society is not nearly as free as ours, and they have chosen to impose that oppression onto neighboring countries. Here’s a list of ways you can support the Tibetan Government-in-exile, and you can donate to Students for a Free Tibet here.