SHANNON QUINN, EDUCATION DIRECTOR
This past month, California passed a law mandating that colleges follow a “yes means yes” consent policy for dealing with sexual assault on campuses. This law follows months of momentum across the country, with calls from the White House and groups on campuses such as Students Against Sexual Assault to drastically change how colleges handle sexual assault cases.
In order to be eligible to receive state funds for student financial aid, public and private universities in California that accept state grants must adopt an expanded definition of consent. The new law states, “It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”
This law is certainly a victory for advocates who have been pushing for a change in responses to how sexual assault is handled. Considering one in four women in college are sexually assaulted, it’s time to start taking education seriously and uniformly. Other states and the District of Columbia should follow suit in order to push colleges towards making their campuses safe for students.
For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on October 2 that the SUNY campuses will comprehensively reform their policies on sexual assault to match up with the affirmative consent model. This shows that states are beginning to take seriously the call to action on sexual assault and enact the policies from advocates.
Along with these new policies, there needs to be a fundamental reform of how we educate students about sexual assault and violence. While colleges should transition to educating incoming students on the “yes means yes” policy immediately, it should also be integrated into education as early as possible in order to shift the paradigms of how sexual assault is viewed and understood.
High school health classes vary from state to state on sex education policies. This “yes means yes” consent model should be put into these health curricula across the country, which will reinforce positive sexual values such as respect and communication. By providing students with inclusive sex education that parallels the standards they are expected to adhere to in college, this could work to decrease the number of cases of sexual assault overall. In a study done assessing the overall impact on different sexual assault education programs across colleges, community development organizations, and other groups, it was found that 90% of the education programs had positive outcomes in knowledge and comprehension about sexual assault.
These programs focused on clear communication and empowerment of women to understand their choices when it comes to sexual behavior. Students should understand the legal definitions behind the personal choices that they will be confronted with both in college and throughout life. Putting affirmative consent definitions and explanations into the curriculum would expose students to the idea early, allowing them to grapple with it and gain a thorough understanding before they’re confronted with the realities of rape culture that are pervasive in college life.
While emphasis on punishing perpetrators of sexual assault is of high importance, it’s also vital to look at educating comprehensively and clearly to reduce incidence of sexual assault. If students are exposed to these important consent standards earlier, it will begin to shift attitudes on sexual behavior and assault, which would be a welcome first step to combating rape culture and making campuses safer places for students.
FRANK FRITZ, EQUAL JUSTICE DIRECTOR
Note: The comments expressed here are solely the opinions and observations of the author and do not reflect any position of, nor constitute an endorsement from, the George Washington University Roosevelt Institute.
Less than a week after GW Roosevelt Institute and GW Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s student Forum on Initiative 71 with representatives from the Yes and No Campaigns, the GW College Democrats hosted a candidate forum for the new elected office of DC Attorney General.
In a 2010 city charter amendment, DC voters opted to directly elect their Attorney General, the city’s top lawyer. The Attorney General is currently appointed by the Mayor, and many voters felt a more independent office was needed to tackle issues such as corruption. While the council delayed the first Attorney General election for 2018, a court overrode this decision, finding that it the city was capable of holding elections this fall and therefore must do so.
The race for Attorney General could hardly be more undecided, with an October 16 poll showing 57% of likely voters undecided (see chart 1). The panel was an excellent opportunity to hear firsthand why each campaign thought their candidate should be elected.
Karl Racine’s campaign was the first to speak. His literature touted his endorsement from the Washington Post, which stressed his 25 years of experience practicing law, management of a large firm (comparable in size to the DC Office of Attorney General), and record of community service. In addition to his service as legal counsel in the highly litigated second term of Bill Clinton, Racine was the first African American managing partner of a Top 100 law firm. His representative eagerly discussed his background, being born to Haitian immigrants and living in the District since the age of two. His representatives also noted that Mr. Racine has been financially successful in his career, being able to lend his own campaign $225,000, and would not apologize for that fact regardless of the accusations of his opponents.
Mr. Racine holds two major advantages beyond his Washington Post endorsement: a campaign war chest about double that of his closest opponent and the top spot on the ballot. Mr. Racine did not seem to have much popular support, being tied for last at 5% of likely voters, however due to his other major advantages and 57% of the electorate undecided, many observers and the other campaigns treat him as the frontrunner.
“Smitty” - Edward Smith
The campaign of Edward Smith, running as “Smitty,” was quick to compliment all but one of the other campaigns for Attorney General. The Smitty team hit a populist note, playing to the base of the GW College Democrats and Democrats of the District of Columbia, and spent most of its time attacking Karl Racine and trying to pose himself as the only alternative choice. They discussed how Smitty was born and raised on the other side of the Anacostia, in a low income family and worked his way to get a degree from Harvard law. Smitty’s campaign notes that Racine, a Democrat like all five candidates, does not mention the Democratic party a single time in his literature, while Smitty worked early on in the 2008 campaign to elect the first African American president. The Smith campaign blasted Racine’s massive fundraising for the election and his donations to Political Actions Committees that have supported Republicans, including Ted Cruz. Smitty’s campaign is trying to present him as the Democratic alternative to the big money, corporate financed, status quo candidate they see in Karl Racine. His platform was more briefly discussed, but it centered around juvenile justice and consumer advocacy and protection.
In his favor, Smitty has several standard Democratic endorsements, such as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club of DC and the AFL-CIO, and is the best financed opposition to Racine, just beating out Lori Masters. Factors working against him include his young age and relative lack of experience, especially with specifically relating to DC.
Ms. Williams was the first candidate to represent herself at the forum. While she was running second in the crowded fielding according a Washington Post poll, she notes that she is an underdog due to a fundraising disadvantage. Ms. Williams posed herself as the most grassroots candidate, noting her work after graduating from Georgetown Law in union organizing with the ATU Local 689 (Metro’s largest union), serving as President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (which endorsed Smitty), and many positions in the Democratic Party. She has raised less than $20,000, which is one-fifth of the money of her nearest opponent, Mr. Zukerberg, and acknowledges that her largest contribution to the race might be simply shifting the overall discussion towards more community based issues.
Ms. Williams is by far the most idealistic of the candidates in the race, running on a social justice themed platform, that seeks to promote worker’s rights, gender and LGBTQ equality, Juvenile Justice, and DC Statehood. She does have the benefit of being listed second on the ballot for Attorney General, and many of the College Democrats at GW expressed interest in volunteering for her campaign, ever after she had left the forum early.
The Masters’ campaign sent two representatives, both of whom spoke highly of her progressive record as a lawyer and her work ethic that made her a leader in her office and in her community. Her 30 years of experience as a lawyer and manager are only rivaled by Mr. Racine’s, and The Washington Post placed her in the top tier of candidates to fill the position. Her campaign stressed the wide spectrum of legal issues that Ms. Masters has tackled during her time as an attorney, ranging from insurance issues, discrimination, voter disenfranchisement, and international human trafficking. The representatives noted that Ms. Masters, unlike Mr. Smith and Mr. Racine, has worked and volunteered her time with issues that are specific to the District of Columbia.
The campaign acknowledged that Masters, a white woman, is unlikely to win the African American vote over Misters Racine and Smith (both African American), but a strong third place showing in the predominately Black Wards 7 and 8, which have low turnout, could allow her to win if she can win in the predominately white, high turnout Ward 3. Her experience and fundraising do seem to indicate that she is a serious contender with so many voters undecided.
Mr. Zukerberg, arriving late, hit very populist notes discussing his many past efforts to improve the District of Columbia. The Washington Post found that the Adams Morgan lawyer was one of the most qualified in the field, alongside Ms. Masters and Mr. Racine. Mr. Zukerberg ran for the Council’s At-Large Seat, but is now running to be the first elected Attorney General. He discussed his leadership in suing the City Council for delaying the Attorney General election until 2018; after three appeals a court ruled in favor of Mr. Zukerberg, moving the election to this fall.
Mr. Zukerberg also discussed his long time efforts to decriminalize marijuana and his advocacy for students in DC public schools. He stressed that while he did not have the fundraising advantage of “K Street money,” he was the most independent candidate, which would allow him to tackle government corruption head on. The Washington Post poll found that as of early October, he was the only candidate with double digit support, but it is difficult to know how undecided voters will break this fall.
For more information:
The DCist- Interview with all five Candidates
If you would like to volunteer for a campaign, you can find their information below.
More Candidate Information:
Karl Racine: Website - Financial Report
Edward “Smitty” Smith: Website - Financial Report
Lateefah Williams: Website - Financial Report
Lorie Masters: Website - Financial Report
Paul Zukerberg: Website - Financial Report
How to register to vote in the District of Columbia, including through same day registration.
Somewhere between farm and fork, Americans waste up to 40% of our food. Organic waste is the single-most common item to end up in landfills; this is an underrepresented detriment to the environment: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “in the landfill, food scraps decompose and give off methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful in global warming as carbon dioxide.” The economic costs of food waste are enormous as well. NRDC estimates nearly $165 billion worth of food is wasted annually in the United States alone.
Massachusetts has begun implementation the most aggressive state policy to reduce food waste in the country. Beginning on October 1st, any business or institution that produces at least one ton of food waste every week must now divert that waste away from landfills. These businesses and institutions include restaurants, supermarkets, and universities, among others. This act is filled with positive intentions: reducing the state’s carbon footprint, supporting hunger relief organizations, and producing green energy.
Institutions that qualify under this new law are banned from sending their food waste to a landfill. Instead, they are encouraged to:
a) Reduce as much waste as possible;
b) Donate usable food to hunger relief organizations, such as food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens; and
c) Divert any extra food to composting, animal feed, and biofuel programs.
Because of the emphasis on diverting waste to useful sources, Massachusetts has provided online resources for qualifying establishments to find recycling facilities. The local agricultural economy is supported by the significant increase of animal feed and compost to Massachusetts farms.
Furthermore, diversion of solid waste can go to anaerobic digestion facilities; bacteria process food and turn it into biogas, which is used for electricity and heating/cooling. Biogas is a growing clean energy industry that is saving Massachusetts millions of dollars. In fact, the facility that serves the Boston area is estimated to save the state government $15 million every year because of its biogas production. As part of the food waste ban, the state is offering up to $1 million in grants and low-interest loans to private businesses that start anaerobic digestion facilities. This policy is part of Governor Patrick’s larger goal of reducing the state’s carbon footprint by combining renewable energy goals with waste reduction and economic development.
For the past year, USDA has been encouraging restaurants, supermarkets, and food service companies to take the “Food Waste Challenge” and set their own goals to reduce waste. Several cities have taken the pledge, such as Seattle, New York, and San Francisco. Massachusetts’ new law is different: it signals a transition from voluntary programs to policy mandates. States have the unique power of proposing and enforcing bans on excessive food waste, while simultaneously supporting their agricultural and energy sectors.
In order to make real progress, other states and cities should follow suit and create food waste bans to divert organic waste from landfills and into useful alternatives.
State and local governments aren’t the only ones that can make an impact on food waste. As an issue that reaches every level from farm to fork, many different institutions can make a difference. Consumers should be more conscious about the amount of food they buy and conserve, and supermarkets can develop new ways to package food to reduce waste. For example, a new supermarket in Berlin, Germany, is a new “Zero Waste Supermarket” that sells every item in bulk.
Universities should invest in diversion of food waste to donate or to compost -- or even to start treatment facilities of their own. For example, UMass-Amherst has begun constructing their own anaerobic digester which is intended to take in food waste from campus and surrounding towns and generate clean energy back to campus.
Addressing food waste is a practical way that communities and states can take real steps toward reducing their carbon footprint, saving scarce landfill space, and growing their economies.
in the 1970s have surged since 1980. Inflation-adjusted tuition and fee charges have increased by 247 percent at state flagship universities, by 230 percent at state universities and colleges, and by 164 percent at community colleges since 1980.”
Meanwhile, many competing industrialized nations have done away with tuition all together. Demos finds that “when states cut higher education funding, schools essentially have two options for closing the gap: raise student charges—tuition, fees, room, and board—or cut salaries and services. Most states have chosen to [...] [implement] steep hikes in charges for tuition, room, and board, and [cut] thousands of course offerings and positions.”
current federal tax breaks and grants to assist them, instead of towards private universities that disproportionately escalate the rising cost of higher education.
Even amid the draconian cuts to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, many politicians are pursuing the laudable goal of further expanding education before Kindergarten, as well. Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City ran his 2013 campaign on a platform to independently fund pre-K through a tax on high income earners. The tax portion of the plan was scrapped by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in lieu of a separate statewide Pre-K plan, but the Mayor’s plan illustrates the a vision in which education is not subject to cuts by state authorities thanks to a stable revenue source.
and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believed that the federal government could better finance war debts and, in doing so, build a more integrated national economy. The federal government’s first foray into civilian higher education was the Morrill Act of 1862, creating a system of land grant universities to teach and research military tactics, agriculture, mechanical arts, and classical studies.
Yet, as the debt ceiling battle and the sequester have shown, the discretionary budget (including defense and most federal offices), while solvent, is at the mercy of the daily political ebb and flow. A new financing system for education should be modeled after Social Security and Medicare, which are not-discretionary programs that are automatically funded, even during a government shutdown.
In addition to increasing the stability of education spending during a recession, funding education as a federal non-discretionary program could offer many other benefits. Primary and Secondary schools would see their funding de-coupled from local property tax revenue, allowing for more equity in funding regardless of real estate values in a given school district. In a federally funded higher education system, “in-state” tuition could be expanded nationwide. This could allow schools to specialize in specific fields and attract the best talent from around the country. With stable funding, public colleges and universities reverse the trend of rising higher education costs, and put economic pressure on non-profit and for-profit schools to follow suit in order to remain competitive.
How would such a system be financed? Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, designed as worker insurance policies, charge the FICA tax on employees and employers. The current system of property taxes, state income taxes, and sales taxes all have flaws. Property taxes deny low income communities the funding that higher income communities receive. State income taxes can be affected by regional downturns in the economy, and sales taxes shift the heaviest burden on low income families with the least disposable income. A new system designed to benefit youth could be funded in a way that actually solves in another intergenerational crisis, global climate change. While past generations have been able to pollute without concern for the impact on their children, a truly progressive solution to promote equity and security for young people would be to finance a new American educational system through a tax on Carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.
Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) and the generations that come after us have much to gain from such a system. While the 78 million Americans born in the wake of World War II (the “Baby Boomers”) begin to collect Social Security, Millennials continue to collect college debt, as their younger siblings see their grade school teachers laid off.
youth turnout, Millennials and successive generations will have the power to reset the fiscal agenda at every level of government and being the work of achieving budget equity.
For more information on how to mobilize on issues important to Millennials, you can check out Generation Progress. To get more information on how to vote, visit the Electoral Assistance Commission website. If you like public policy and would like to learn more about progressive solutions facing the country consider joining the GW Roosevelt Institute, or find your local chapter here.
DAVID MENI, PRESIDENT
I’ve had this recurring nightmare that I’m in a full suit in the middle of July, sweating bullets as I make my way up the broken escalator at Dupont South--one of the longest in Metro’s system, and also one of the escalators most commonly out of service.
In reality, this scenario has happened much more than it should. A broken escalator or elevator on the Metro is no fun for anyone, and can be a serious hazard if the need arises to evacuate a station. However, what many riders don’t realize is that some fine-print policies can make their trip more difficult.
More than just an inconvenience, escalator and elevator outages in the Metro can be a serious problem to anyone with a disability--encountering just one along a trip can seriously delay travel times and force riders with disabilities to navigate a maze of shuttles and other temporary accommodations.
That’s not to mention the importance of general ease-of-use in the growth of a public transit system. Even if a heavy rail network is well-established, a recurring problem like escalator outages can hurt ridership over the long term . The DC area is particularly vulnerable to this effect, as the Metro serves many commuters from outer suburbs that elect to take public transit because they can, not because they have to . This means that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)--more than most other urban transportation authorities--must be cognisant of issues that impact convenience and ease-of-use.
So How Bad Are Outages?
It’s actually hard to say.
While Metro’s internal report card may show that recent spending on escalator maintenance continues to perform “above target” at around 92% availability, these numbers are misleading. Escalator and elevator outages are often reported hours or days after they occur, if at all. Thus, the availability measure is over-estimated as a result of missing data. For example, this graph of outage reports, generated by the WMATA API shows a peculiar spike in reports at the beginning of each day, which indicates a large number of broken escalators that went unreported the previous day.
DC Metro Metrics--a site that combines official reporting and crowdsourcing over Twitter--gives a more realistic picture of Metro’s escalator problem: “for every 17 minutes the Metro is open, an escalator goes out of service.” At the time of writing this post, there were 50 escalators and 10 elevators out of service in the system.
Clearly, the problem is larger than we’re led to believe.
What’s the issue?
There tends to be a lot of finger-pointing when a problem comes up in WMATA. A lot of issues with Metro’s escalators and elevators can be chalked up to age: Many of them have been around since Metrorail’s inception, nearly 40 years ago; such machinery tends to have a lifespan of 20-30 years. However, many of Metro’s newest escalators (such as those put in at Foggy Bottom in 2011) are some of the worst in the system.
Many DC political figures blame the internal, unionized maintenance staff at WMATA. Even Tommy Wells, the“progressive stalwart” of the DC city council, has advocated using outside contractors to privatize escalator and elevator maintenance.
However, WMATA’s recent limited use of some private contractors has been plagued with delays and mismanagement.
The “Pick” System
I think the largest underlying problem is a little-known provision in the union contract between WMATA and the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) 689, which covers technical maintenance workers:
“In selecting work assignments, pensioned part-time operating employees shall exercise seniority and pick work at a particular location...from a published list of single pieces of work set out for this group during a work selection (pick).”
What this means is that senior workers with more experience get their first pick of maintenance jobs, generally for a 6-month period.
While this “pick” system may make sense on paper, it incentivizes the wrong thing; in many instances, senior workers will pick easier or newer escalator and elevator jobs, continually leaving more difficult cases to less experienced employees.
As David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington notes, the problem can go much deeper: “[The pick system] reduces incentives for more capable mechanics without high seniority to do a good job, since bringing an escalator up to tip top shape will only entice the more senior mechanics to bid to take it away.”
The new WMATA/ATU contract needs to eliminate this ineffective assignment system if there’s any hope of fixing Metro’s maintenance problem.
A Union-Friendly Way
Even with changing the ATU contract to eliminate the “pick” policy, there are still steps that can be taken to close the availability gap in Metro’s escalators and elevators without losing the benefits of union work.
Maintenance worker policy should be prioritize having employees work consistently on a certain set of Metro’s equipment rather than changing jobs so often; this way, they may grow acquainted with a job’s idiosyncrasies instead of having to re-learn them each time. This incentive towards labor specialization can reduce training costs for new workers and drive up maintenance efficiency.
Second, the workforce of escalator and elevator maintenance should be expanded, rather than using contractors that have so far missed goals. Maintenance staff has not expanded at the same rate as the size of Metro system, even as systems age and require more upkeep. This is particularly true with the sudden addition of 27 new escalators in the first phase of the Silver Line.
With the right policy changes, those new Silver Line escalators will be able to age in well-maintained dignity. Perhaps then, the Metro escalators in my dreams will allow me to stand (to the right), relax, and enjoy the ride.
ERIN AGNEW, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
On September 23rd, a United Nations Climate Summit in New York City began a series of talks leading up to the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP), a facet of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Earlier in the week, over 300,000 demonstrators in New York City Alone took to the streets as a part of the People’s Climate March. Among those marching were George Washington University Students who boarded buses carrying over 200 students from DC Universities. Filling in the area between the Youth and Labor contingents of the March, they represented the University as well as Fossil Free GW, the Roosevelt Institute, the Progressive Student Union, and the Food Justice Alliance, among other Progressive Coalition Organizations at GW. With a massive showing in New York, and over 160 marches staged internationally on the same day, the People’s Climate March was an effective show of public support for decisive action on climate change and frustration at previous action plans’ impotence.
For climate justice activists and world leaders alike, a lot rests on the productivity of the next year of climate talks. The UN will continue this round of climate talks in Lima, Peru this December, and it aims to sign a new climate accord at the a final meeting in Paris at the end of 2015. The most decisive action on climate change to come from a recent Conference of the Parties was the Copenhagen Accord of 2009, following COP 15. UN leaders agreed to limit further global warming to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). This mandated that developed countries reduce emissions between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020, but left allowances for developing nations to continue or increase carbon emissions. The intent was to allow coal and oil use to increase infrastructural development and to fit with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s characterization of climate change reduction as a “common, but differentiated responsibility.” As the UN approaches COP 20, developed nations would have to reduce emission 70% to keep to the same goal, while letting undeveloped nations industrialize unchecked.
Though the responsibility is shared, the effects of climate change are hardly felt equally. The overlap in developing nations and those disproportionately impacted by climate change is striking. Lohachara Island, part of the Sundarban Indian National Park, has been permanently flooded by rising sea-levels, leaving 10,000 individuals homeless and categorized internationally as refugees. In the Sundarban Park area alone, 7,500 acres of land, 70,000 people, and 400 endangered tigers are threatened by rapidly rising waters. In 2008, the World Bank issued a report of the 12 nations most threatened by climate change. Unsurprisingly, four of the world’s poorest nations - Malawi, Eritrea, Mozambique and Bangladesh - topped the list. Malawi, Sudan, and South Sudan stand to see increased food deficits, as agriculture becomes increasingly difficult on land affected by frequent, intense, and prolonged droughts. Bangladesh already experiences 70% of its area being flooded each year by glacial melt from the Himalayas and overflow from the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. Vietnam is projected to see 35% of its Gross Domestic Product diminished if the sea level rises just five meters. The Philippines and the Maldives are both susceptible to not only rising sea levels, but also frequent intense storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which alone displaced over 3 million people.
As part of the Copenhagen Accord, the world’s wealthiest nations – including the United States, Germany, Britain, and Japan – promised $30 billion to developing nations as “fast start” climate financing, to be used for rebuilding following natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, and to invest in sustainable infrastructure. This pledge has recently been increased to $100 billion, which sounds admirable and effective, until it is compared to the $60 billion pledged to New Orleans, a single city which has still not fully recovered, to rebuild post-Hurricane Katrina. The number seems even less promising when its source and structure are explored.
Oxfam International asks more of UN leaders, pointing out two disturbing facets of their funding pledges. First, only 43% of the Fast Start funding was grants; the rest was issued as loans with varying interest rates. Of those grants, only 21% has been earmarked to address the needs of communities already impacted by climate change related disasters or built resilient infrastructure for those likely to be impacted. The uncontrolled interest rates and lack of support with funding is much of the concern of global protests of International Monetary Fund and World Bank loan systems. Second, only 33% of Fast Start funding is new; the majority was pledged in aid to these nations well before the Copenhagen Conference. Old allocations were essentially repackaged as Fast Start funding.
Programs like Low-Carbon Development Strategies, the Critical Mass Initiative, and the African Clean Air Corridor are good steps in ensuring sustainable development. But their rhetoric becomes problematic when it suggests that the nations most harmfully impacted by climate change are also highly culpable for its global effect. And money pledged toward sustainable development should not come at the expense of aid to address hunger, health, education inequity, and similar issues that become no less pressing because of the effects of climate change. As the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change moves towards its final COP 20 summit in 2015, it must focus on productive guidance for sustainable development. But most importantly, it must take an unprecedented step in not only holding powerful nations to the promises made in the new accord while including those nations most immediately impacted by climate change as stakeholders in the deliberation process.
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