Tuesday, August 15, 2017

10 Ways to Fight Hate

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a longtime organization in Montgomery,  Alabama dedicated to exposing hate groups and countering them through education and legal action, has published a 10-point guide to action in the wake of the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville this weekend.

Point number 6 in this "Ten Ways to Fight Hate" guide is especially instructive right now.  It encourages people to not engage armed hate groups, and especially not to engage them with weapons.  Such hate groups have stated that they want physical fights.  Don't give them what they want.  Coming armed with chemical sprays or any kind of weapon to a rally heightens fear for everyone, even one's allies, and increases the risk that people will get hurt.  Resist the temptation to yell obscenities back at anyone.  Name-calling can tip someone who is already spoiling for a fight over the edge.  Peace-making is a discipline.  It shows personal strength and discipline when you maintain your own dignity by not repeating the ugly behavior of someone else.

Instead of yelling or fighting directly back at hate groups, the SPLC advises us to hold alternative events in separate locations that focus on upholding the civil rights, equality and dignity of all people, countering the messages of the hate groups.  Many such events were held around the country following the killing in Charlottesville, showing how much power there is in people coming together nonviolently to express their feelings and values.

Check out the complete 10-point guide at this link.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Peace Takes Courage

The current US president makes reckless threats of violence that would harm the entire world.  He says he is acting tough.  But, no, bullying behavior is not toughness.  It is tough to sit down and speak directly and respectfully with one's adversaries.  It is tough to admit and apologize for one's mistakes.  It is tough to listen to the pain of others. It is tough to delve into history and educate oneself as thoroughly as possible about the factors that have created different governments, borders, social systems.

Threatening violence to others is taking the cowardly route.  Building peace is what takes courage.  That's one of SOY's messages, and we are looking forward to the upcoming school year, when we meet many courageous students who are working hard in their classes while at the same time dealing with challenges in family life, national policies regarding immigration, worries about college affordability and the everyday tough work of becoming young adults.  We look forward to hearing what students are saying and observing the ways in which many teachers and staff continue to model conflict resolution and positive communication.  We believe in education, not militarization.

(graphic courtesy of Veterans for Peace, which is holding its annual national convention this weekend with this theme)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Veterans weigh in on defense spending

We agree with this statement that was posted today by Maggie Martin, co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War :

As we've been trying to follow the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and all of it's many amendments I remember back to my time in the Army. It seemed like everyone (even lowly privates that have nothing to do with acquisitions) knew the unwritten rule that units needed to spend all the money they were budgeted so they would have a bigger budget the next year.
It also seemed like leadership evaluations and awards focused on managing large dollar sums of assets and equipment as an important part of performance. 
I asked our members if they experienced the same thing and overwhelmingly people had stories of wasting large sums of money on unneeded equipment in order to spend the full fiscal budget and ensure it will be risen and not cut the following year. 
Jacob Flom testified about this story he shared at our 2008 Winter Soldier Hearings, here's part of what he saw:
When I was just an E-3 I was given a card and told to spend $80,000 by the end of the day. Ordered copy machines, servers, and an obscene amount of top of the line surge protectors, probably other stuff. Must have been the last day of the fiscal year or quarter. This was when I was assigned to the IT section of our CE squadron in the air Force for about 8 or 12 months. I included this in my testimony at Winter Soldier, pretty sure they recorded the audio interview or something
We've heard lots of stories like this and it leads us to this conclusion: Defense Spending is Insatiable and Wasteful. We know that this is happening across the branches and up to the top and that isn't even getting into defense contractors, which are even more egregious in their misuse of taxpayer dollars and warrant their own discussion. It's clear to see we don't need to increase defense spending, we need to audit the pentagon, break the hold of the military industrial complex, and reclaim our resources.  Not only that, we also need toend the 1033 program to stop this excess equipment from being passed down to local police departments and even schools.
The Pentagon and defense corporations aren't going to stop being greedy on their own, especially when the corporate defense and military leaders have become so intertwined that there is clearly high levels of personal enrichment happening thanks to this cycle. That's why our Drop the MIC campaign is so important. Who better than veterans to challenge the lie that we need to spend more for security? That's simply not the truth and it's not going to fly anymore as services, social programs, and benefits are being cut and our infrustructure deteriorates. Help us raise awareness by using #DroptheMIC #ReclaimOurResources to call out the profiteers and build a movement to break the cycle.
We cannot accept that we don't have money for healthcare and education while we waste billions on so-called defense spending. We are safer when we have stronger healthier communities and when we pursue diplomatic and humanitarian solutions to the problem we face, or better yet, we stop wreaking havoc on the world with our military exploits. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Texas Conservation Corps gets the job done

This is good news published in the Austin American-Statesman about funding of the great local Americorps program, Texas Conservation Corps.  If you like working outdoors doing work like trail-building, disaster relief and environmental restoration, check this out.  Americorps provides a wage while you are working, health insurance, good experience for your resume AND an education award (money toward college or to repay student loans) when you complete your service.  Not only that, you are doing important work that helps our community and the natural world.  Some of Austin's hike and bike trails have been built by Americorps members with the Texas Conservation Corps.  Here is the Statesman story:

YouthWorks gets AmeriCorps funding
American YouthWorks has received $805,800 in AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service programs.
Building on the American YouthWorks’ Texas Conservation Corps program, the grant will fund 76 AmeriCorps volunteers who will tackle problems in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Their activities will include disaster response, coastal restoration and public land maintenance needs.
The Corporation for National and Community Service also will provide up to $348,900 in education scholarships for those AmeriCorps members to help pay for college, vocational training or student loans.
The Austin-based American YouthWorks is recruiting for AmeriCorps members to begin service this fall. For more information: americanyouthworks.org.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Become an environmental scientist with Austin Youth River Watch

Last night, I went to a presentation about a proposed extension of the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail sponsored by the Shoal Creek Conservancy.  I live near this creek and walk along the trail often as a form of exercise and as a way to learn more about the natural flora and fauna in my neighborhood.  Austin's river, the Colorado, and all our creeks that flow into it are our lifeblood.  Water is life!

At the presentation were a number of local groups that are working in one way or another to help protect Austin's natural resources.  Included was the group, Austin Youth River Watch!  I had first encountered this organization at the Earth Day festival at Huston-Tillotson U. this spring.

If you are interested in hands-on environmental science, check out this group!  This is an after-school and summer program (that also pays a stipend to students who participate) where students learn to test and analyze water quality in our local rivers and creeks.  Currently, there are about 120 students who are involved annually from 10 of our local high schools:  Akins, Austin, Crockett, Eastside Memorial, Lanier, LBJ/LASA, Manor, McCallum, Reagan and Travis.  This is a great way to learn by doing, perform a crucial service for Austin and earn some money at the same time.  Check out the Austin Youth River Watch at this site or call 512-708-9115.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Casa Verde Builders wants you!

One of the primary nonmilitary options we promote is Americorps.  In Austin, we have a number of Americorps programs that offer great job experience, team building, a living stipend, health coverage and child care over the course of the job and then an educational award upon completion of the commitment.  One of the longstanding Americorps opportunities in Austin has been the green building program, Casa Verde Builders.  If you have an interest in green building and learning hands-on construction skills, check this out.  They are accepting applications through the summer per this information:

Casa Verde Builders 
Casa Verde Builders(CVB), at American YouthWorks in Austin, TX, is a national leader in combining green building with affordable housing and the educational needs of Austin youth. Over the past 20 years AmeriCorps members & students from our Charter High School have worked together to build over 90 green-built homes for low-income, first time homebuyers. We have recently expanded the scope of our program to incorporate weatherization,home repair projects for low-income families, and building tiny homes for the chronically homeless with Mobile Loaves& Fishes. As part of CVB, corpsmembers will receive construction training in NCCER's (National Center for Construction Education and Research) core curriculum, OSHA 10, and CPR/First Aid. We are currently recruiting young people (18-26) from across the country and various walks of life to work together in a team-oriented service environment. Corpsmembers serve in a full-time capacity (M-F; 8:00-5:00). We have full-time(1700hrs) and half-time(900hrs) slots available. Members receive a living stipend, health benefits, career counseling and an educational award. Serving with American YouthWorks, AmeriCorps is both challenging and rewarding. It's a place to learn, grow, and have an experience you'll remember for the rest of your life. You even get time off for SXSW(sorry, wristbands not included). To learn more, visit http://www.americanyouthworks.org and https://www.facebook.com/americanyouthworks/ In-person or phone interview required. Drug test and criminal background check required.
Further help on this page can be found by clicking here.

Member Duties : Casa Verde Builders members will perform strenuous physical tasks outdoors in all types of weather. Members will be using hand & power tools:hammers, saws, drills, shovels & spray rigs, and may carry heavy material. They may be asked to climb ladders & scaffolding,work on roofs or in cramped spaces. Crew will receive green building & basic construction training, weatherization & leadership training. Crews will work on new construction, weatherization& home repair projects for low-income/elderly residents. Periodic overnight trips to service projects may require camping for up to a week at a time. Food & camping equipment provided Members will assist as crew leaders of our YouthBuild crews,helping to organize & lead projects. Members must be able to be role models & provide leadership for at-risk teens & young adults. No experience or skills required, just a positive attitude & a willingness to work hard. Training, tools, & safety gear provided.
Program Benefits : Stipend ,  Education award upon successful completion of service ,  Health Coverage ,  Childcare assistance if eligible . 
Terms :
Uniforms provided and required . 
Service Areas :
Children/Youth ,  Education ,  Neighborhood Revitalization ,  Housing . 
Skills :
Teaching/Tutoring ,  Team Work ,  Trade/Construction ,  Leadership ,  General Skills . 
Apply Now
Refine Search
Program Type:
AmeriCorps State / National

Casa Verde Builders

Program Start/End Date
06/12/2017  -   05/18/2018

Work ScheduleFull Time

Education level
High school diploma/GED

Age Requirement
Minimum:  18    Maximum:  28

Program LocationsTEXAS  


Accepting Applications
From  04/01/2017  To  09/30/2017 

ContactBritni Trustman
1901 E Ben White Blvd
Austin   TX   78741

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Undocumented students: keep college plans alive

The following commentary piece printed in today's issue of the Austin American-Statesman shares our views.  We meet many students in Austin's high schools who are affected adversely by immigration policies that threaten their families and their own future education.  It's important for undocumented students to know that, despite SB-4 legislation and the unwelcoming rhetoric of many Texas legislators, Texas law still allows undocumented high school students to apply for Texas Grant funding for college and in-state tuition when students meet these three qualifications:
1)  The student has lived in Texas for at least three years
2) The student is graduating or has graduated from a high school in Texas
3) The student signs an affidavit indicating intent to apply for permanent residency in the US
Thus, undocumented students who meet this criteria should fill out TAFSA forms for Texas financial aid for college, even though they are denied federal financial aid.  Also, a number of organizations and colleges offer scholarships that don't discriminate on the basis of citizenship status.
We believe that our communities are better when we make it easier rather than harder for all students to obtain a college education when that is their goal.

Here is the commentary piece by special contributor, Franklin Strong, in the May 30, 2017 issue of the Austin American-Statesman:

SB 4 hurts immigrants - and the rest of America
by Franklin Strong

A student I taught last year — I’ll call her Ana — comes by my classroom at the end of the day to ask if I’ll write a recommendation for her when she applies to colleges next fall. I tell her of course, and ask her if she’s excited to be a senior.
She says she is, but she’s nervous. “Why?” I ask. She talks about her ACT scores and college applications. She mentions that her Junior Seminar teacher is frustrated with her because, in making lists of colleges to apply to next year, she keeps refusing to include any out-of-state schools.
“Why?” I ask. “Why not keep a variety of options?”
“I’m undocumented,” she explains. “Well, I mean, I have DACA. I’m a DREAMer.”
I ask why that means she won’t apply to out-of-state schools. I know some schools won’t take undocumented immigrants, but many will. Why not focus on those?
“It’s just that I don’t want to fall in love with a school and then find out I can’t go there.”
She says she visited Colorado last summer with an extracurricular club and was enchanted by the state. She came home and told her mom she wanted to go to college there. Her mom was thrilled. So, this girl has been researching universities in the state and found one that appealed to her. But she won’t put it on her list.
Another student tells me about her aunt and uncle in Houston, who left for Mexico when it became clear Senate Bill 4 would pass, taking their son — this student’s cousin — with them. He was a senior, college-bound. Now, he doesn’t know when he’ll finish his education. This girl tells me her parents are considering doing the same thing with her. They’ve already pulled her brother out of his charter elementary school and put him into a neighborhood school.
“Why?” I ask.
“Less driving,” she says.
This girl loves acting; she is always writing about her auditions and rehearsals. Now, she says, she’s had to give it up, because her mom won’t drive her to auditions anymore.
Her family had two dogs, but they sent them to live with relatives in the country.
“They bark,” she says, “and we don’t want the cops to come because of the noise.”
The Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel recently wrote about the lessons Texas can learn from how immigrants in Arizona have dealt with the immigration laws passed there in 2010. She describes one Phoenix couple that now hesitates before calling the police or before accessing public health care for their children, who are American citizens. After SB 1070 passed, Kriel writes, the couple chose to “make their lives smaller.”
This is exactly what I’ve seen with my students: a narrowing. A self-restriction. After the first travel ban and the February raids, Dana Snitzky wrote about the responsibility of bearing witness — of answering important questions like “Who has been detained?” and “Who has been denied entry?” and “Who has been deported?”
And she’s right: We need to hear about the five-year-old handcuffed at the airport. And about the father detained while taking his daughter to school. But we also need we need to record this narrowing, which is less likely to show up in statistics or in images on the news. We need to talk about the families who are too afraid of the police to keep their pets. The parents who drive to the store looking over their shoulders. The students limiting their college options.
If stripping people of their dignity, opportunities and joy is the method by which we achieve our goals, then we come up with monstrous ideas — like forcibly separating mothers and children, or holding undocumented immigrants in facilities with appalling conditions.
And we start by thinking that maybe it’s OK for people who aren’t supposed to be here to live lives that are dimmer and smaller. In doing so, we make our nation — and ourselves — smaller, too.

Strong recently completed a PhD in comparative literature and now teaches at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School.