I finally got my r0Ad BiKe!!!

Bike and Build sends you a road bike (road bike = really lightweight, with weird slopey handlebars and skinny tires. Up ’til now I’ve been riding a hybrid, which is heavier and has wider tires and flat handlebars) after you raise $1K, take an online safety course, pass its quiz, then score 100 on its own safety quiz. So of course I am only getting my bike now.

Several moments into a video on YouTube called “how to put together your road bike,” I knew I had to take it to a shop.

The Australian man there called me “young lady” two times, but he also showed me things about the bike like its weird gear shift system and said koans like, “you don’t turn a road bike, you lean a road bike.”

He suggested I “ride in longer and longer circles” to get comfortable with the new type of bike, and not worry about distance for a while. “Easy for him to think,” I thought. “He doesn’t have to fit in 200 or so miles in the next two weeks.” I nodded and resolved to totally overdo it.

He moved the seat into its proper height for me, but that was a bit terrifyingly high, so he agreed to lower it to start out with, because, “it’s worse for your Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 6.06.04 PMknees, but initially it’s better for your knees because you won’t be falling on them.”

When I saw the photo of the color option mandate available to me online, I steeled myself for having the ugliest bike in the world. It’s black, with turquoise and hot pink accents. But now that I have it in person, I’m kinda into it. I like a little garish flair, a little “up yours” to taste, and now I have a vehicle that’s a pure monument to being just too much.

I did some wobbly loops on the tiny, quiet streets near the shoppe. In my thoughts:

Part 1 of Brain: holy shit am I glad I did the bulk of my training on huge streets like Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue because now the rest of the world is a joke!

Part 2: A joke that can still kill you! It just takes one truck, even if it is carrying a luxury outdoor patio set down a private cul-de-sac.

Another strong thought was my sadness at seeing that a family whose house sat next to a tiny brook (or average brook size, I think they’re just small by definition) decided to cover their lawn in pesticides. Now those chemicals will wash into the brook, which will babble them into the Long Island Sound and other waterways.  THIS IS SAD AND UNNECESSARY. If you are willing to grow the types of plants that would be here without you (that is, native plants), then you don’t have to fight so hard against nature to keep the plants you like (grass, int his and most cases) in the ground. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here eating celery from a bag that said “CRISPER AND LESS STRINGY” so idk what kinda genes you have to delete around here to get that to happen. I can vouch that it’s a pretty great texture. I’m cool with GMOs as long as you M the right Gs.

[Zeke status update: Zeke is not standing in the open doorway, looking out. At the precipice between indoor and out, he is struck with either indecision or a calm so complete it is unknowable to humans. Perhaps he does not need to go to the outside, for he can see it and it is there and it is his. Or perhaps he does not see the false dichotomy of space into which our puny human minds have divided the world.]

As far as the new bike went: pretty great, once I got the hang of it, but turning (excuse me, leaning) is weird and hills are perhaps trickier but perhaps I just always hate hills? But I also truly believe it was more difficult to get up the hills with the new bike.

I biked into every little side lane I could find until I was ready to take it up a notch (this goes out to all of you alive and conscious in the early 2000s Food Network days) and bike to the big leagues: the beach. I biked along the mansions, few small beach shacks that have so far managed to evade the wrecking ball, and the grid of homes that reminded me of how Los Angeles does even nice homes: with a thin ribbon of surrounding land, not a huge lawn to buffer you from the world. Then I biked around In Longshore, the town’s country club, where I came across lots of roads leading nowhere, just for show (or golf carts, though I saw a guy drive his right past the edge).

With regards to affordable housing, there wasn’t. Most of the houses I passed just looked like Money, and those that didn’t know their days are numbered. It was interesting to see the different guises money can take, as money in Santa Monica transmogrifies into something different than here: more stucco, less colonial era chic (or rather, it references a different colonial era of a different empire). But money everywhere likes its land flat, prostrate, and uniform, as the drought-defying streets in Beverly Hills and San Marino attest with their plush lawns.


Houses I passed with shapes cut into their shutters: 6

House count for each shutter shape:

  • Crescent Moons: 1
  • Diamonds: 1
  • Seahorses: 1
  • Sailboats: 1
  • Starfish: 2

Frequency of all cut outs increased in accordance with proximity to the ocean.

Dogs who spazzed at me: 4

2 medium black lab-types and 2 tiny fluff types, who live across the street from each other and all came out, emboldened by each other in a never-ending feedback loop, to freak out about my presence.

Times the bike shop guy called me “young lady”: 2

Comeback I muttered to myself: “I’m 25”

Other bicyclists I saw on the roads: 5

All were middle aged men decked out in intense cycling gear, in contrast to my own ratty cotton t-shirt and running shorts (not to mention age and gender)

Streets I passed with churchy names: 2

Chapel St and West Parish Rd

Miles biked: 16.2

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See how many damn loops I did into random cul-de-sacs?! 


Sometimes You Just Need to Take a Break from Sad Stuff and Look at a Puppy

When I am away from home, I often ask my parents to send me photos of our dog, Zeke.

Joe describes Zeke as a dog bred to look like a teddy bear come to life. I like to take this as proof of Zeke’s perfection rather than some critique of GMO dogs engineered to feed humanity’s endless appetite for the increasingly cute.

Zeke has examined the housing crisis and determined that a break is a luxury afforded only to those not living the struggle. Zeke quotes Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson (as Zeke looks to their Australian ancestry for inspiration):

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Zeke appreciates the solidarity among those engaged in the affordable housing and housing justice movement and as such has volunteered to offer up their own visage so that others might gaze upon it as a soothing balm for self-care.


“Just as the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, nor may we rely on them to build up our own affordable, safe, and healthy housing or end the housing crisis.” – Zeke

Let’s Talk About Flint and Environmental Racism

If you get your news the responsible way, that is, by following Cher on Twitter, then you’re well aware that a part of America right now is under siege from its tap water.

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All the news that’s fit to caps lock

I wish I could say this is old news, but unfortunately, while in terms of media attention it’s practically new news, not only does the start of this calamity date back much further, it’s also nowhere even close to over.

On the off chance you’re getting your news from me, a person whose sole source of nutrition for the day has been pretty much just an entire box of strawberry Fig Newmans, allow me to tell you the story. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder decided to essentially overthrow democracy in Flint by overturning the results of an election and installing his own people (America has literally invaded countries over less). These outsourced politicians, much like any consultants might, looked to how they might improve the bottom line above all else. They saw an opportunity to save if they went ahead and switched Flint’s water source from the relatively clean and safe Lake Huron to the contaminated Flint River. People alerted the government a year ago, when their children were getting sick and their water looked like pond scum, but no one did anything to help them, despite their protests. Then General Motors complained that the water was rusting their car parts, and Governor Snyder jumped through hoops and spent a considerable amount of money to get them hooked back up to the clean waters of Lake Huron. Meanwhile, the residents of Flint were coming down with Legionnaire’s Disease and irreversible lead poisoning.

There are a lot of ways to look at what’s been happening in Flint, and a lot has already been said. So I just want us to look at the crisis in Flint through a particular lens: that of a faction of the environmental movement called environmental justice. But first, a quick tour of the history of American environmentalism to see the context in which the environmental justice movement emerged.

Note: This will be a woefully simplified version of this history because you don’t want this to end up like my essay on the history of NYC public housing. Oh, you never saw that? That’s because it’s still an unfinished 4,000 word draft. Yeah. Let’s get started.


Environmentalism only came into being when people began to perceive the environment as under threat, or their own wellbeing as under threat from those changes. While people throughout the ancient world connected the effects of pollution on public health, the American environmental movement got its start only as the true ramifications of the industrial revolution were growing clearer. The broad history of modern American environmentalism thus comes in three main stages: a “hey bros, let’s go camping and shoot stuff” first stage, a “we are definitely all going to die soon” second one, and a “we can innovate our way out of this mess again and again until forever” third.

Stage 1: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man going camping must be in want of sufficient camping grounds  


[In aristocratic bellow] Let’s go camping, boooooyyys!

It can get pretty awkward when you try reading the words of the environmentalists of the 1800s stage, as for a group of people purportedly all about saving the wilderness (from themselves), they were awfully enthusiastic about shooting it up. Many considered Nature a pristine yet primitive and dangerous Eden that they needed to rush to carve out little bubbles in before their robber baron companies did the 19th century equivalent of put up a parking lot.

Theodore Roosevelt with Dead Rhino

Teddy Roosevelt, famed conservationist, with an animal he saved from um, living

Like the gender binary that defines female as what is “not male,” much of this understanding of nature was “that which is not human.” That humans had in fact lived on this continent, not necessarily “living lightly on the land,” as the myth of the ecological Indian would attest, was an inconvenience. Yet this was a nuisance easily remedied by population removal, whether though communicable disease, violence, or land grab. As America expanded, it pushed whomever it found on its new land out, into the seemingly infinite expanse of land that was the West. As the 19th century was coming to a close, however, so too was this stretch of wide open western frontier that, according to Gilded Age historian Frederick Jackson Turner, had kept up white America’s hopes, self-conception, growth, and ambition. (It was basically “there’s always money in the banana stand,” but in the 1800s and replace “money” with “land” and “banana stand” with “west.”) Aristocratic, Aryan conservationists applied the same Eugenics they used on people to other species and landscapes. Only pretty, noble animals and scenes like elk and mountains were worth saving; the little flora and fauna, like the little people, weren’t worth their time.


Technically, it’s going to some Native Americans’ home that you took

For the men who relished America’s “purple mountain majesties” (a brand new poem at the time) for all they offered in terms of both natural resources and self-identity, this was a crisis. People like Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir rushed to siphon up still-beautiful parts of the country to hide them in a bubble of protection, while removing the indigenous people who had lived on them before, and sometimes even the animals they didn’t like (there was a full-on wolf genocide in this country the population has yet to recover from). This is the charming legacy of our National Park system. In a 1901 promotional essay for the parks, Muir good-naturedly assured would-be white visitors that, when it came “to Indians, most of them are dead or civilized into useless innocence.” [Ed. note: calling dibs on “Useless Innocence” as a band name now]

Not everything was profit- or sentiment-driven, however. Some, such as Aldo Leopold, were advocating for biocentrism, which is the belief, contrary to what the Bible says, that humans are just one species among many and should act as such. Middle class lobbying groups would continue to push this agenda of conservation and anti-pollution through the next century.

Stage 2: The birds are dying; we’ll be next

The second famous wave of American environmentalism came in the middle of the 20th century, when Rachel Carson explored and explained the ruinous effects the pesticide DDT was having on species that were merely bystanders to the insects it was meant to corral. The earth was our very own handbasket, and our miles per hour rate to hell was as high as our trucks’ fuel efficiency wasn’t. Things got really Malthusean for a moment there, and we seriously considered whether about half of us had to die, though it wasn’t the white parts.


You guys, I went to India, and it is just so gross. Love, Paul

The government got involved, though, and we got the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act, and the end of hairspray. Still the movement stayed as white as a bleached coral reef. Polling its members in 1972, the Sierra Club found that forty percent of respondents were strongly opposed to the organization potentially “concern[ing] itself with the conservation problems of such special groups as the urban poor and ethnic minorities.” Only fifteen percent were in favor  (Obviously a group with any sizable number of minority members wouldn’t have phrased the question that way, or had to ask it). Some young, white activists who had cut their teeth protesting the Vietnam War were excited to get the underclasses involved, but their attempts to Lorax the urban poor were met with suspicion. The working class saw environmentalism as the elite trend it had long been, and feared its ability to create further oppression.

As the movement grew, leaving the poor and brown behind, it was maligned as anti-growth and thus, anti-jobs. While as the environmental non-profit industry proliferated, creating lots of jobs, those went to the liberal arts grads you’d expect. The jobs the poor were allotted were often in the very industries environmentalists fought against, such as coal mining and construction, and the immediate need of a job, even a dangerous and poorly paid one, trumped the eventual need for a non-lethal planet. Environmentalists got a bad rap as “anti-job,” a slanderous fire big business was more than happy to flame.

Stage 3: Buy green! Stop buying! But this Prius, tho

What came next was an optimistic, We Can Do It approach, which basically said, “if we had the ingenuity and inventiveness to get us into this mess, then gosh darn it, we have the smarts and pluck to invent our way out of it!” We didn’t have to stop building, we had to start building better. We got LEED buildings, hybrid cars, and a lot of TED talks on green cities. We’re all excited because sustainability is a fun design challenge.

This has led to the juxtaposition of anti-capitalist co-ops, “eco-friendly” packaged goods, and those tote bags that say “I am not a plastic bag.” We live in a weird mix of anti-consumption and conspicuously virtuous consumption.

im green

Methinks the tote bag doth protest too much

The absurdity is perhaps best embodied in the idea of carbon credits, which let governments or companies “buy” the right to emit a certain amount of pollution, or sell their rights on the free market. While many conservatives hate this idea as restricting industry’s ability to produce unfettered, many environmentalists hate it as well because it’s just in particularly bad taste to sell the rights to poisoning our only planet. So still pollution rages on, uncapped and untraded, as we all fight over what we can do, who can do it, and whether anything bad is happening at all.



The unequal burden of environmental destruction

Now, this is how the history of environmentalism is largely taught, but of course, it’s important to note here that just because this is who we, as a society and as historians, heard and noticed doing stuff, it doesn’t mean this is all that was happening. Rather, like in all of history, most people’s voices and actions either got stopped before they could occur or weren’t written down or spread for us to remember.

And just as their stories have been struck from the record, so have poor people, children, women, and ethnic minorities always been hit hardest by environmental degradation. This is both because they interact more closely with it, and because they are usually located right on the site of the worst abuses. These marginalized groups are the ones forced to extract its resources and depend on that labor for their livelihoods (through mining, agriculture, or drawing water, for example), live more closely intertwined in it (as they are less likely to own a car, live in a secluded and pristine habitat, or have the means to protect themselves from extreme weather events) and whose dwelling spaces the powerful invariably choose as the site of blights they don’t wish to live near, like landfills, fuel extraction operations, and freeways.

In addition, people from cultures other than the West’s have a host of different traditions dictating how to interact with the environment. Since they already know a different path, they cannot be convinced of the inevitability of capitalism and its treatment of nature, despite Margaret Thatcher and her ideological descendants’ famous declaration that “there is no alternative.”


Your father and I made capitalism for dinner, and you’ll eat it or go to bed hungry. That’s it; I don’t want to hear any more about hot dogs or democratic socialism

Environmental Justice is the fight against the deliberate and systematic oppression of disenfranchised groups through environmental tactics. These include discriminatory housing regulations; placement of landfills and toxic waste in communities of color; preventable environmental health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning, cancer, and developmental illnesses; farmworkers’ exposure to toxic pesticides; unsafe and unfit housing; mistreatment of sacred indigenous grounds; lack of representation in the environmental movement; poor access to healthcare; restricted community participation in decision-making; and unequal enforcement of environmental laws.

dumpingEnvironmental racism refers to the fact that people of color are the disproportionate victims of the above litany of abuses. As Robert Bullard defined it in his seminal 1990 work, Dumping in Dixie, “Black communities, because of their economic and political vulnerability, have been routinely targeted for the siting of noxious facilities, locally unwanted land uses, and environmental hazards… and are likely to suffer greater risks from these facilities than is the general population.”

To advocate for environmental justice is to fight a two-pronged battle, against not only environmental degradation’s disproportionate effects on the very people least responsible for it, but against the very act of environmental destruction itself.

The Environmental Justice movement


Dolores Huerta, American hero

The sentiments and tactics of the American environmental justice movement can be seen throughout the country’s history, coming to a head in the second half of the 20th century. From 1965-1970, Mexican and Filipino farmworkers organized against abusive working conditions in the agricultural fields of California. In 1967, black students in Houston protested a city dump that had killed two children. The next year, black residents of West Harlem fought a sewage treatment plant in their midsts. But the movement would be subsumed by the larger civil rights campaign until the 1980s, when environmental justice came into the spotlight thanks to a poor, black county in North Carolina that surprised everyone by fighting back when their health and community came under threat.

In 1982, the African American residents of Warren County, North Carolina found themselves selected as the dumping grounds for the state’s PCB toxic waste, which the state had previously been haphazardly dispersing across the state’s highways. The site selected for the landfill wasn’t geologically wise, as it had a shallow water table and was dangerously close to the source of residents’ drinking water. But new EPA regulations were rolling back restrictions on where landfills could and could not be built in order to facilitate building them in more politically expedient locations, and Warren County fit the bill. Poor, rural, and 84% black, it was expected to lie down and take whatever the government threw at it.

PCB protest

Center: Rev. Ben Chavis, who coined the term “environmental justice” based on his experience in Warren County. This photo was taken as he raised his fist in support of fellow protesters as they were taken to jail on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1982. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

It turned out that wasn’t to be the case this time. Warren County residents organized a formidable opposition, joined by national civil rights leaders, black politicians, churches, labor unions, activists, and students. In just two months, over 500 Warren County residents were arrested for participating in non-violent protests. Now, when students and activists get arrested in protest, that’s a great sacrifice. But when a group that has a history of suffering at the hands of the police, and for whom missing a day of work could be financially ruinous, gives up everything to exercise their right to free speech and assembly in the name of a cause? That’s awe-inspiring. That the people of Warren County deemed this level of dedication and personal suffering was worth it shows the gravity of what was– and still is– at stake when it comes to environmental racism.


Nonviolent protest tactics

Though the trucks still came with the toxic trash, the media had come as well, and with it, the nations’ attention. The Washington Post called Warren County’s activism the “marriage of environmental concerns with civil rights activism.” Dr. Benjamin Chavis, director of the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, coined the term “environmental justice” to describe what they were fighting for. The Environmental Justice movement was born.


A coalition of protestors. I really don’t know why all these photos from 1982 are in black and white

While Warren County’s campaign is heralded  as the birth of the environmental justice movement, Hazel Johnson is known as its mother.

Johnson began fighting the discriminatory polluting practices of her Chicago hometown after her husband died of lung cancer in 1969. She documented the disproportionately high cancer rates among her public housing community, who lived in homes laden with asbestos and surrounded by over 250 leaking storage tanks and landfills. Her advocacy efforts led, among other things, to a 1994 Executive Order directing federal agencies to examine minority communities’ disproportionate environmental and public health ailments. In a fitting turn of events, the young black president who reaffirmed this pledge in 2014 had worked alongside Johnson as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, thirty years before.

hazel and barack

Two audaciously hopeful South Side community activists

In 1991, black leaders organized the First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, drawing up the principles that guide the Environmental Justice movement. Today, the environmentalism movement includes many activist groups founded by and for people of color, and lower class and minority communities increasingly banding together to try to protect their environments. The federal government has even worked in fits and starts to address environmental discrimination. But environmental justice isn’t an especially well-known cause, and it’s a fight that is far from over, even as it may sit on the sidelines of national awareness. What Flint did was to bust this ignorance open and shine, what for many white Americans was the first light they saw on the unique health effects of being black, poor, and living in the wrong place.


Dr. Bullard addressing the First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit

Flint is far from alone. The small, 77% black community of St. Joseph, Louisiana has been suffering through chalky, murky water the color of caramel for a decade. One resident told Mic, “You can’t wear white clothes because if you wash your white clothes, the water turns them tan or beige. All of the toilets, sinks in town are stained brown.”

Lead poisoning is also more commonly transmitted through old housing stock, with its leaded paint, than through water. And dilapidated, unsafe housing is tragically common, especially among African Americans. As a result, Black children are five times as likely to suffer from lead poisoning than white children. Multiple towns in Pennsylvania have equivalent or higher levels of lead exposure to Flint, mostly from old leaded paint. A study by socio-environmentalists recently found evidence that “extreme emitters” are having an even larger effect on sacrifice zones than scholarship until this point has suspected.

Spacialized discrimination, with all the hazards that entails, has only gotten worse in the three decades since Warren County rose up against toxic waste. As Dr. Bullard explains, “African Americans and people of color are more concentrated near hazardous wastes facilities today than two decades ago. People of color now make up 56 percent of the residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste facilities; they comprise a whopping 69 percent in neighborhoods with clustered waste facilities… African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.”

And this is truly an issue of environmental racism, rather than just a byproduct of environmental classism. Black people making $50,000 – $60,000 a year are still more likely to live in a polluted area than white people making only $10,000. Meanwhile, despite supposed increased federal oversight, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has not declared a single instance of discrimination among any state or local agency in its twenty-two years of existence from the hundreds of claims and documented events submitted to it. The racial lines of suffering drawn by Hurricane Katrina drew a clear distinction in how vulnerable black people have been left not just to the daily effects of environmental degradation and abuse, nor to the immediate catastrophe of a sudden weather event, but also to a government and societal response that left us with the indelible and unimpeachable charge that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” As a group of scholars including Bullard wrote in the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment wrote,”environmental justice is about slow-motion disasters—and disasters reveal environmental injustice in a fast-forward mode.”

Flint has largely been reported on as a public health crisis, or a political scandal, but increasingly, people are calling it out as the instance of environmental racism that it is. Russell Simmons explicitly called the situation environmental racism in the Detroit Free Press, adding that, “If this were Beverly Hills, it would be a minute before we found out and a second before someone would be blamed and be brought up on charges.” Yale360 sought out Dr. Bullard for an interview on Flint’s plight, which he called “a textbook case of environmental injustice.” Autostraddle‘s “Notes from a Queer Engineer” column traced the roots of the disaster to a combination of road salt and environmental racism. And the New York Times asked, “If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan’s state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?” in an article entitled “A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint.”


I think we’ve all seen this by now, but it doesn’t get less unsettling

So why am I writing about all this here (besides the fact that it’s the only blog I’ve got)? Well, this is ultimately an issue of housing, as it is an issue of the lived, natural, and built environment. Your housing, or rather, your habitat, doesn’t stop at your front steps. It extends into your community, in floats in the air around you, it’s painted onto your walls, and it’s pumped into your pipes and streams from your faucets.

Housing justice is not just about affordability; it’s about the right and ability to be safe and healthy in one’s home. Environmentalism is not just about saving the rainforest and polar bears; it’s about making sure none of our own species are in danger of habitant destruction. Urban planning is not just about public transit and bumped out curbs; it’s about finding a place for the less pretty stuff besides where the people no one cares about live. The people of Flint were denied their human and environmental rights when the city switched their water to a toxic stream, and it was due to environmental racism. Here’s to a world where Environmental Justice wins.



Ever Been Arrested? HUD Says the Discrimination You Face in Finding a Home Might Be Illegal

Landlords often refuse to rent homes to people with arrest records— even though an arrest says nothing about guilt (that only comes with a trial) and almost everything to do with discrimination. Since Black and Hispanic Americans are much more likely to be arrested than members of other groups, this trend doubly penalizes them. First, they’re arrested, then have difficulty securing housing forever after. Because of the disproportionate populations of Black and Hispanic Americans with arrest records, The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is looking into the legality of this practice, warning that it may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Since discrimination based on race is illegal, while discrimination based on arrest record is not (yet), landlords can use the coded language of criminal records to legitimize racially biased housing practices. HUD described one method to determine whether a landlord’s stated rejection of people with records is a mask for a deeper bias:

“Intentional discrimination may be proven [if,] when responding to inquiries from prospective applicants, a property manager told a African-American individual that her criminal record would disqualify her from renting an apartment, but did not similarly discourage a White individual with a comparable criminal record from applying.”

HUD’s investigation into this practice is part of growing awareness and activism around the enormous and discriminatory American prison complex. Americans make up 5% of the global population, yet our prisoners are a quarter of the world’s incarcerated. Accordingly, approximately 100 million US adults have criminal records– nearly one third of the country. Nationwide, groups are working in concert to minimize the brutality of the carceral state. A sampling of these include:

  • The “Ban the Box” campaign, which aims to stop employers from discriminating against formerly incarcerated people in their hiring practices
  • Reclassifying drug use from a crime to an illness or legal activity
  • Advocating for alternative forms of justice based on focusing on victims’ needs rather than punishment through Restorative Justice
  • Reforming prisons so they no longer commit human rights abuses as defined by the UN
  • Advocacy for eventual and complete prison abolition. Prisons are since prisons largely serve to create profit rather than “reform”or “rehabilitate” those locked inside. Anyway, there’s pretty damning evidence they’re just an evolved form of slavery
  • And of course, a continued legacy of activism among prisoners themselves against brutality and mistreatment

Housing is hard enough to find and afford. If you insist on adding discrimination to the mix, you just set people up for homelessness, all but guaranteeing they’ll get in trouble with the law again. What sort of reform and rehabilitation is that?

Get to Know a Donor: Shawn Patterson


I met Shawn Patterson my freshman fall, when I thought I might like to join the Brown Democrats. Turned out I didn’t, but Shawn and I became fast friends… six years later. Upon moving to LA this winter, I scoured my Facebook friends list for nearby people, and found that Shawn, someone I had spoken with maybe three times if I’m being generous, lived here too. I then set about slowly and subtly forcing him to become my friend. It totally worked, and now Shawn is my best friend.

Shawn is in the midst of getting his PhD in political science (or as some prefer to call it, Government, or, Caucus Studies) at UCLA. What this means for his day to day existence is he sits in a waffle on stilts (though when I tried to find his office using that description I found that most buildings on the UCLA campus could be called that), using statistics to slowly answer questions like, “why do people donate to the politicians they do?” “who do I have to donate to around here to get my passport faster?” and “what’s the deal with TANF, am I right?” Shawn used UCLA’s supercomputer (I have no idea what that means either) so often the university asked him to take the math down a notch.

Shawn is from the Kingdom of Delaware. He loves Philly cheesesteaks and is a regular at LA’s own Philadelphia-inspired bar. He hates the west to east side traffic but his pure and noble best friend love for me inspires him to overcome that demon and drive here anyway.


If you could eradicate one thing from this world, what would it be? Either spiders or people. One group consists of beady-eyed monsters, the stuff of our deepest darkest nightmares, which often kill their partners and eat their young. The other are spiders.lyness4

If you could add something entirely new to this world that doesn’t exist, what would it be? Pet-sized pigmy giraffes.

What question do people ask that you hate? “Oh, you study political science? Are you, like, going to be a politician?” [Bonus: my answer to that question] “Do you ask proctologists if they’re going to be assholes?”


If you could design any form of government to live under, what would it look like? I would like to randomly assign members of congress each term from names in a phone book. That would give me so many lovely natural experiments to write political science papers about.


How would you describe the essence of Delaware? Chickens outnumber people 9:1.


Can you describe the moment you knew Joe Biden was the one for you? What is it about him that keeps the flame alive? My grandparents worked on Joe Biden’s first campaign, I grew up a disciple in the Church of Joe. As for what keeps him alive? Just embed this Youtube clip.

How was the granola, huh, Shawn? The granola was DOPE. [Ed. note: I had a fundraiser selling granola and he bought some so I was just curious what he thought. For the curious, Shawn bought a box of original and a box of chocolate, which he instructed me to mix into one übergranola since he said he would just eat them that way anyway]


This is still part of Shawn’s answer. He is the only interviewee so far to respond in GIFs

What is your signature dance move? Thank god for gifs: giphy1giphy1

[Ed. note: Shawn only included this GIF once, but I made a stylistic choice and decided I preferred more of a chorus line effect]

What book, movie, tv show, song, or other piece of art was the most influential in shaping who you are? 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s the only book I make a point to re-read at least once a year. It was also the first real book I ever read. I remember my mom got me a copy of it at the airport when she was on a business trip and brought it back to me having heard about it on some morning show, probably the Today Show. Well, I wasn’t a reader as a young kid, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I loved it from the first page, and I wanted to know what happened next so bad, I tried so hard to read faster, to read better, to read more. I would sit and struggle and push through, frequently calling my mom or dad over to help me figure out a word (mind you half the words I coulynessldn’t get weren’t real words, but I digress…). It took me weeks to get through the first book. But it took me a little less time to get through the second, and even less to get through the third.

That is when Harry Potter changed things for me. See I finished the Prisoner of Azkaban sometime in early 2000, but the Goblet of Fire wasn’t scheduled to be published until the summer. But I didn’t want to just sit around for six months while I waited. So I picked up a copy of the Golden Compass, and I kept reading. It may be a little cliched, but reading opened doors for me that just wouldn’t have been there otherwise…

 What’s inside your own personal Overton window? My window was thrown wide, wide open a long time ago. To describe it would put your blog on a number of government watch lists.

If your life were a piece of media, what type would it be? What would the genre be? How would the ratings be? What would critics say? It would be a campy horror TV show that got cancelled after the third season, was brought back on Netflix to finish a disappointing 4th season, but the 2 hour 5th season/movie would be satisfying to fans and critics alike.


Isabel, me, and Shawn the one time we managed to get together outside of our group text thread, which is mostly me harassing them to hang out

Jonathan’s question: what should we name the (hypothetical) new planet? Salacia — Neptune’s Wife.

What question should I ask the next person? Would you rather fight a duck the size of a horse, or 50 horses the size of a duck?


Apparently Shawn wrote this poem. I for one learned a lot!