VALERIE NAUMAN, DIRECTOR OF HEALTHCARE
Mainstream media has purposefully criticized this because of its appeal to Millennials, but this is precisely how to include a generation, often called apathetic, in the political process. Despite their reputations, the interviewers stuck to important and complicated issues, often addressing some elephants in the room. The YouTube creators each took suggestions from their viewers on what topics the interviews should cover. Hank Green begins the interview series with asking topics ranging from the political feasibility of his policies from the State of the Union to drone technology and about US sanctions placed on North Korea. To conclude the first of three interviews, Hank, who has suffered from a chronic condition and greatly benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, asked the president to sign a receipt from his pharmacy where his normally $1100 medication cost $5.
Glozell conducted her interview next, most notably expressing that Fidel Castro “puts dick in dictatorship” when asking how the president justifies relieving sanctions on Cuba. To finish the triad of interviews, 19- year-old Bethany Mota dives into education plans and why people her age should obtain an education. Lastly, Mota asks one of the most important questions, why should young people be interested in politics? President Obama asks viewers to get involved and let their representatives know what issues they care about most to have some positive impact.
Is this the future of social change, and is this how we can get Millennials to become more involved in their world? I hope so. Only 13% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 participated in the 2014 midterm elections. Hank noted that “Legacy media accuses young people of being apathetic while actively attempting to remove them from the conversation.” Hank’s words ring true. Every day I see a new article about how Millennials are the worst generation yet. Time magazine even named us the “Me Me Me Generation” in a May 2013 issue. So while Millennials try to watch traditional forms of media, that media constantly bombard them with criticism. Legacy media has actively tried to remove Millennials from political conversation in an elitist effort of generational warfare. For a generation that has seen the Great Recession, the longest war in American history, and a 1,120% increase in the cost of secondary education since our parents’ generation, Millennials are doing surprisingly well. Millennials simply don’t watch as much television as their parents but rather find their entertainment with the free internet and the Obama administration has caught onto this. Although many of these YouTubers’ viewers are too young to vote, they eventually will grow to become part of the American electorate and will, hopefully, become more informed because of the way the information is presented to them. Whether their information comes the playful Bethany Mota, the ridiculous Glozel Green, or the hopeful Hank Green, if they can successfully produce a less politically apathetic generation then the White House should absolutely support that.
Despite criticism, the President has made an admirable effort to reach out to a generation often considered lost by their parents. Any effort to reach out to Millennials should be celebrated and these YouTube creators are certainly one way to get the attention of a generation. This isn’t something new to President Obama. He went on Zach Galifianakis's Between Two Ferns in 2010 to promote the launch of healthcare.gov. GW students will recall his appearance on The Colbert Report in December of last year. He also, just this past week, appeared in a hilarious Buzzfeed video that seemed to plug for healthcare.gov. This demonstrates the desire to include Millennials in the national conversation despite the belief that young people can’t care. The government is often criticised for its distance with the public with too many Americans believing they cannot affect change without a sizable change purse. Only 24% of Americans said in 2014 that they trusted the government most or all of the time. A separate 2014 poll showed that “84 per cent of people felt alienated from the political system.” There is an unnecessary amount of pomp and circumstance that has created a remoteness and area of separation around the presidency that some view as too big to influence. In Miss Mota’s interview, she asks the president why Millennials should care about politics and this reflects the apathy by most young people who have simply given up on something that they don’t feel like they have any say in anymore. Restoring the faith that citizens (especially young people) can affect change is crucial to the political process. So is it “beneath the dignity of the office”? Is it beneath the President’s dignity to ensure the country has a well-educated and politically active populace? Is it beneath his duties to ensure the nation is safe in the hands of the next generation? That is exactly what the President should be doing.
The truth is, no one would criticise the president if he had done an interview with a mainstream news organization (some of which should have less credibility than the YouTube interviewers). Both inform the public, but one informs a different generation than the other. As seen with the vlogbrothers’ Project for Awesome by raising $1,279,877 collectively, the young viewers of YouTube are capable of some pretty amazing social change. So is it “beneath the dignity of the office” to reach out to constituents in any way possible? No, and the sooner we realize that YouTube and Facebook and Twitter can be some of the most powerful avenues for social change, the better. By using the internet to connect young people with their political system, we can reduce apathy and hopefully boost political participation for years to come.
SOPHIE KRENSKY, EQUAL JUSTICE
Domestic work—labor involving caring for children, the disabled, and the elderly or cleaning a home—has historically lacked respect and consideration, in both culture and policy. In September of 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill entitling workers to more sick days, but purposefully exempted domestic workers to alleviate cost. The bill is shortsighted—the coming increase in retiring and aging Americans is making elder care the fastest growing profession, but low wages and lack of rights for domestic workers mean high burnout, with a 40-60% turnover rate for a home aide on the job for less than a year.
As an occupation that consists primarily of women, domestic workers are disproportionately subjected to undignified working conditions, such as injury, various abuses, lack of contract, and vulnerable employment status. Their work is often emotionally and physically demanding, with long hours and little time off, only to earn about $20,000 a year. Domestic work’s labor standards are not covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and as such have recently come under scrutiny. While some believe that unionization is the best choice to help these workers’ voices be heard, this traditional approach may not be effective. Both lacking a centralized workplace and being employed under different bosses, domestic workers struggle to find enough common ground to unite.
Earlier this year, a group of non-union domestic workers objected to an Illinois state law that mandates that all workers contribute their “fair share” to the union that the majority of their fellow co-workers voted to be a part of. These costs are typically associated with collective bargaining and administrative costs, but when Harris v. Quinn came before the Supreme Court last year, Justices ruled in favor of the non-union workers, and further weakened the American workers’ claim to collective bargaining rights. The ruling was particularly harmful to the average domestic worker, whose legitimacy as a laborer was further diminished in the eyes of the law.
The disregard of domestic labor as “legitimate” work has dangerous implications for the livelihood of those who care for the people we love. As such, some workers are looking outside the traditional labor union structure to advocate for change. Domestic work movements could benefit from looking to other decentralized, difficult-to-organize labor forces, such as agricultural workers. Recognizing that traditional union action relies on worker centralization and solidarity, Florida’s Fair Food program created a direct bridge between farm workers, employers, and the state, based on education, accountability, and responsibility. Through workers’ rights education programs, a strict employer code of conduct, and high grower and buyer participation, the program has become one of the most effective ways to ensure fair treatment, creating a distribution of power that would be almost unheard of for a traditional union (Fun fact: GW Alternative Breaks leads a community service trip to Immokalee, Florida where trip participants work with the program’s sponsor organization.)
If the courts and policymakers continue to be as ineffective and ignorant of the value of domestic workers, we risk alienating a labor force that works tirelessly to ensure happy, productive lives for our nation’s elderly and disabled. Finding alternative methods to the traditional union model provides new opportunities with a specially-tailored approach for domestic workers to assert their rights. In failing to grant domestic workers basic rights like sick leave, policy makers show where their priorities lie, and it’s not with the person helping their 90-year-old mother go to the bathroom.
SHANNON QUINN, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
For many students at GW, the complex array of issues learned in international affairs classes in the Elliott School seems a world away. Although the forces of globalization make it an exciting and relevant time to undertake international relations, it might not always be obvious how to connect worldly problems with local action.
One clear avenue in which to accomplish this connection is through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been building up global momentum. As I’ve heard joked again and again, it’s the goal of many students here at GW to “solve” Middle East peace. Sixty-seven years of unrelenting Palestinian-Israeli conflict make this an admirable, albeit lofty, goal. But how would this contentious (and surely controversial) move help the situation? What’s its relevance to GW, and would it actually make any clear difference on an international stage?
What is BDS?
The BDS movement began on July 9, 2005, a year following the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the Israeli separation wall. Palestinian civil society called for the mobilization of global support “to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law.”
Of particular interest in this movement in a university setting is divestment. The primary goal of divestment is targeting corporations that comply with violating Palestinian rights under international law, “ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies.” This effort works to raise awareness about Israeli policies and exert economic pressure to end those that do not comply fully with international law.
There are many intertwining issues at hand within the overarching Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not all of which can be adequately unpacked and addressed here. However, if one thing is clear, it’s that the current status quo of the Israeli occupation cannot continue if serious progress in the peace process is to be made. International pressure, from the bottom up, is an opportunity to change this status quo and place a warranted weight upon Israel to grant basic dignity and human rights to the Palestinians.
Divestment actions to exert economic and social pressure are not without precedent. In the 1970s, student-led activism at universities across the United States prompted divestment from apartheid South Africa. Although this was clearly not the only force behind ending the apartheid, its contribution was tangible.
Desmond Tutu writes, in support of recent divestment efforts by UCLA, “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.” Even GW students, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, took an active role in protesting apartheid South Africa and calling for similar sanctions against the state until they ended their internationally illicit practices.
Efforts by student activists across the country have begun to unfold to pressure their universities to divest. Most recently, on November 18, 2014, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) student government was the sixth UC campus to pass a resolution calling on their administration to divest from companies such as Boeing, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard. In this resolution, student leaders cite several reasons for divestment.
These reasons range from bigger picture, citing the standards of the United Nations-endorsed Principles of Responsible Investment, to how UCLA students themselves are impacted by adverse investment policies. According to the resolution, “the consequences of these companies’ actions also affect the UCLA community directly, including students whose families experience occupation, systematic discrimination, death, injury, and other forms of human rights violations.”
And it’s not just universities that are divesting. Last June, the United Methodist Church decided to sell its stock in a company that provides military equipment to Israel. The European Union has also voted in the past to divest from companies that comply with Israeli violations of international law.
Can we have student driven peace?
This past summer, thousands of lives were disrupted or lost with Operation Protective Edge, the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip. A continuation of the conflict within the current status quo inevitably means more lives lost and unsettled, with bouts of tension similar to last summer erupting at any possible moment.
As GW students, we are in a unique position to be more active our roles as participants in an international community, fighting for human rights standards and peace on a higher level. Bringing BDS activism to campus—perhaps in the form of a resolution that GW divest from companies violating international law—would provide a channel to showcase student power on an international stage.
ERIC WOLFERT, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT DIRECTOR
To make a statement so painfully obvious that it almost need not be said, 2014 was a disheartening year for advocates of racial justice. From Ferguson, MO, to New York City, stories describing a dispiriting lack of progress were seemingly omnipresent. While these stories rightly adorned front pages across the United States, a study from the University of Minnesota added a new layer to issues of racial injustice--in a vastly different form than most headlines. The study found that, controlling for other factors, non-whites are exposed to significantly higher levels of environmental toxins than whites in the United States, with the most significant finding being that non-white Americans are exposed to a staggering 46% more nitrogen dioxide than their white counterparts. The inequality holds even when adjusting for income--poor whites are still, on average, exposed to fewer environmental toxins than wealthy non-whites. Startlingly, the study found that if black Americans were exposed to same level of nitrogen dioxide as white Americans, nearly 7,000 deaths resulting from coronary heart disease could be averted. Nitrogen dioxide is also a primary cause of a variety of lung diseases as well as preterm births.
The Environmental Protection Agency updated its nitrogen dioxide standards in January 2010, establishing a maximum threshold of 100 parts per billion of the gas in a given area. If during any hour the average level of nitrogen dioxide is found to exceed that threshold, it is considered a violation. This policy applies to non-stationary sources such as cars and trucks, as well as stationary sources such as power plants. Furthermore, the EPA required individual states to enact State Implementation Plans (SIP) that detail how the state plans to reach that threshold. As of November 2014, seven states and the District of Columbia were found by the EPA to still not be in compliance with the regulation, a full 22 months after the deadline to submit a SIP. Interestingly, the states little in common with regards to demographics or politics--running the gamut from Vermont to Arkansas.
What can be done about this issue? The most obvious answer is, of course, to address the pollution at its source. Upon finding this delay, the EPA is authorized to supercede state concerns and establish a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), which strictly regulate nitrogen dioxide in a more “one-size-fits-all” manner. This is used to coerce the seven holdout states into compliance with the new standards, but twenty-four months is a severely long period of noncompliance, as evidenced by the thousands of deaths from coronary heart disease described above that are caused by nitrogen dioxide emissions. Given that fact, economic penalties are necessary in the interim. These penalty funds should be used to help fund further research into the various diseases that arise from the excess nitrogen dioxide pollution--an imperative particularly as federal spending on medical research has dropped significantly in recent years, leaving the United States at risk of being eclipsed in levels of research and innovation. Furthermore, the federal government should create a tax policy that encourages private businesses to cut back on harmful emissions on their own. Would businesses be willing to further cut their own emissions if they were promised that the tax rate on their profits would fall by 0.5% for every five parts per billion below the EPA standards their emissions were? I would bet they would,spurring new technologies that both help the environment and public health while creating new economic sectors and more jobs.
Finding a way to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions is more than a public health issue; it is also a racial justice issue. At a time when significant discussion is being devoted to how to better ensure racial equality, policy makers would be wise to include environmental barriers to such equality in the debates.
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