Media and Politics

The Speech from the Women’s March You Needed to Hear

Editor’s Note: The text below is a modified version of a speech that Angela Sutton gave at the Philadelphia Women’s March that took place on January 21, 2017.

I am a black woman, a mother of two beautiful black boys, and I live in Northeast Philadelphia.
I have lived in poverty, in Philadelphia, my whole life.

Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any large American city. The face of that poverty is most likely a black mother, like me.

For me, being a woman has always meant being strong and never showing weakness.
I have always had to be superwoman, and the women around me have had to be the same.
As a single mother of two boys, I have to play both roles and every day, I do what I have to in order to take care of my boys the best way I know how.

I, too, am a woman.

I am the woman you don’t see when you walk down the street sipping your Starbucks coffee.
I am the woman you don’t see standing in line at the local food pantry.
I am the woman who remains invisible in spaces and at events like the Women’s March.

But I am here.

You must see me.
You must acknowledge me.
You must include me.

We must continue the fight—and that means all of us.

Because I am the woman who fights every day.
I am the woman who understands inequality.
I am the woman who advocates for the rights of women and children living in poverty.
I am the woman who wants a better life.

The new administration scares me, but I know I have to continue to fight.
Not just for me, but for the others who come after me.
For our children.
For our future.

We can’t accept what we are given.
We must continue the fight—and that means all of us.
Let’s hold each other accountable and unite.

Sonia Sanchez said, “in order to be a true revolutionary, you must understand love.”
I do what I do out of love.
We will win because of love.

But first you need to see me.

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Safety Net

Our Financial Aid System Keeps Rich Kids Rich and Poor Kids Poor. Here’s One Way to Fix It.

In some ways, my story embodies the American success story. I climbed out of poverty, earned a PhD, and am pursuing my life’s work as a member of the academy. But at age 46, security still eludes me. I still lose sleep over just how far my own success will stretch—over whether my three children will have a secure economic future, too.

Growing up poor didn’t just mean that I entered college less academically up to speed than my peers. It also meant that my family had limited financial resources to help pay for college. So, I depended on student loans. I earned a bachelor’s degree—and $40,000 of debt to go with it. I managed to pay it off during my service in the military, so I went to graduate school. In record time, I earned a PhD—and another $100,000 of debt.

I’m one of millions on the debt-dependent path to the American Dream. Our journey stands in stark contrast to those who had financial support. My colleague, for example, received her graduate degree from the same university that I attended—but she had help from family. She graduated without student debt, and started building home equity before she turned 25. She even had enough to spare that she was able to take advantage of employer retirement benefits, too. Her four kids will likely have their college paid for before they finish high school.

My colleague still had to work hard. She studied, saved, and scrimped when she had to. But her path was eased because wealth was passed down at critical stages along the way. For most Americans that just isn’t an option, and it contributes to growing economic inequality in our nation. It also undermines the oft-repeated promise that a college degree is a catalyst of economic mobility and equal opportunity.

Our current debt-based system widens the gap in educational attainment by race and class, reduces graduation rates among students who make it to college, distorts career choices, constrains entrepreneurship, delays people from buying homes and building families, reduces retirement savings and overall net worth, and lengthens the time it takes to reach median wealth in the United States. In short, it asks students to compromise their long-term economic well-being for a chance at a higher education that is supposed to safeguard them from poverty (with mixed results).

It wasn’t always like this. The GI Bill—signed into law after World War II—made higher education possible for millions of veterans. Returning veterans presented a crisis, because they needed a college education to be able to re-enter the workforce and contribute to the economy. The GI Bill was a policy pivot. It prioritized veterans’ long-term needs and reframed higher education as a broadly-shared good, rather than an exclusive purview of the privileged. Within eight years it returned every dollar invested nearly seven-fold.

Now it’s time for another pivot. We need a financial aid system that performs to the standards of our American values—where the effort we put in and the ability we possess determine our economic outcomes.

Now it’s time for another pivot.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton proposed policies that would make college free for many low-income and middle class students. While those policies have been put on hold, another proposal that could move us in the right direction is creating Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) nationwide. Today, there are 42 CSA programs in 29 states that open accounts for children at birth or in kindergarten, endow them with an initial deposit (financed by public or philanthropic sources), and supplement families’ savings through matching grants.

A family’s CSA savings might be modest in total dollars, but they are significant nonetheless. For example, the average out-of-state cost of a four-year degree at a public university is about $34,000. Every student could accrue that sum by age 18 if they had a CSA that received an $8,400 deposit at birth invested in stock/bond portfolios, plus an additional deposit of $5 per month by the family. This would cost an estimated $34 billion annually—less than the $74 billion in government costs for student loan forgiveness projected for 2017.

CSAs are not a silver bullet for disparities in education writ large. Even so, they could help to build an accessible education pipeline that would make it possible for more people to make it through college without crippling debt. That can begin to even out the returns that two students—one poor and one privileged—get from the same credentials.

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Media and Politics

Trump Kicked Off His Presidency By Literally Cutting Jobs

On Monday, as one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump announced an immediate hiring freeze across the federal government. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the goal behind the freeze is “to respect the American taxpayer” adding, “some people are working two, three jobs just to get by. And to see money get wasted in Washington on a job that is duplicative is insulting to the hard work that they do to pay their taxes.”

Sounds pretty good, huh?  Except that a hiring freeze is a recipe not just for wasting taxpayer dollars but also for eliminating well-paying jobs.

Here are four ways Trump’s hiring freeze will cause pain in communities across the U.S.—and leave taxpayers holding the bag.

1.    It will kill jobs

Trump campaigned on a promise to save and bring back jobs.  But his hiring freeze is a recipe for large-scale job loss. In fact, experts believe that the freeze could affect at a minimum some 800,000 workers, or more than one-fifth of the entire federal workforce.

Certain groups will be particularly hard hit, including African-Americans and people with disabilities, both of whom are employed in the public sector at disproportionately higher rates. Veteran employment will especially suffer—they get a hiring preference for federal jobs, and make up more than 40 percent of newly hired federal workers.

2.    It will likely cost, not save, money

While Donald Trump may claim that a hiring freeze will save taxpayers money, all evidence suggests the opposite. Hiring freezes make government agencies more dependent on private contractors, who are paid nearly double what federal workers are for the same amount of work. As political scientist John Dilulio points out, the growth of federal contractors (as a substitute for federal employees) is one of the main drivers of waste.

What’s more, hiring freezes can cripple the parts of government that bring money in. When the IRS was forced to cut its workforce between 2010 and 2014, it cost the country $2 billion in revenue. Even Trump’s own nominee to lead the Treasury Department, Steve Mnuchin, conceded in his confirmation hearing that the IRS needs more staffing, telling the Senate, “[If] we add people, we add money.”

3.    It could undermine public safety and health

A hiring freeze could put the nation at greater risk of cyberattacks. That’s because updating government computer systems and increasing security requires personnel—and many of the agencies that protect us against cyberattacks are already understaffed. In an era of ever-increasing cyberattacks (which Donald Trump has openly encouraged in the past), some agencies are already sounding alarms. Without the necessary staff, the work will most likely need to be outsourced. (In the past, lawmakers of both parties raised eyebrows about outsourcing cybersecurity to expensive contractors.)

Food and drug safety could also be jeopardized. For years, the Food and Drug Administration has suffered from staff shortages. In November of last year alone, the FDA was short 700 positions. Inadequate staffing at this critical agency puts Americans at risk of foodborne illness and can slow the time it takes for life-saving treatments to get to market.

4.    It will keep veterans and disabled workers from accessing Social Security and medical care

Two agencies that will be especially hard hit are the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both agencies are significantly short-staffed, which leads to long waits for care and months- (or even years-)long delays for people to access benefits. Thousands of people die waiting for Social Security disability benefits each year due to unconscionable backlogs that the agency is unable to address without additional staff.

In addition, if Trump and his GOP colleagues in Congress move forward with repealing the Affordable Care Act, many of the 3 million veterans who currently get their care through employers or on the health care exchanges could be forced to turn to the VA to get the care they need, which would further worsen delays. As Peter Kauffmann of VoteVets noted, it would be the “ultimate insult to our men and women who serve to deny them the additional doctors, nurses, therapists, and administrators that are sorely needed at the VA” and if the order “leads to preventable deaths, that will be on Donald Trump’s hands.”

***

Trump has repeatedly proclaimed himself the head of a “workers’ party,” bemoaning in his inauguration speech that there has been “little to celebrate for struggling families across the land” and promising to ring in an era of shared prosperity.

Yet, for the millions of Americans who will lose jobs, suffer delays in accessing needed benefits or medical care, or have their families’ health and safety put at risk by the President’s hiring freeze, there will be even less to celebrate now.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that women will be particularly hard hit by the freeze.

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Media and Politics

3 People from Tom Price’s District Who Stand to Lose Everything if Obamacare Is Repealed

Editor’s Note: Early on Friday, February 10, Representative Tom Price was confirmed as the secretary of health and human services.  

Much of the conversation around the Affordable Care Act—and its potential repeal—has focused on numbers and figures: bending the cost curve, lowering the insurance rate, or slowing health care inflation. But lost in this conversation are the millions of people who owe their medication, treatment, preventive care, and in many cases their lives to the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee the ACA repeal, has proposed a replacement for the law that would leave young people, Americans with pre-existing conditions, women, and people with disabilities at the mercy of the health insurance industry. This would quite literally put the lives of his own constituents at risk.

Below are the stories of three people from Tom Price’s district in Georgia who owe their health coverage to the Affordable Care Act.

1. Vicki Hopper

Vicki Hopper had been uninsured for nearly two years before she purchased health insurance on ACA exchanges in Georgia. Two days later she went to have a mammogram and was told to come back for a more extensive evaluation. Two days after that, she found out she had breast cancer. Since then, she has had 10 surgeries, including biopsies, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.

In Vicki’s case, the Affordable Care Act may have quite literally saved her life. Mammograms, let alone cancer treatment and surgeries, are incredibly expensive and would have likely been impossible without health insurance coverage. Even if Vicki had found out she had breast cancer, insurance companies would have been able to charge her exorbitant rates or outright deny her coverage because cancer qualifies as a pre-existing condition. But under the ACA, routine health benefits like cancer screening, treatment, and follow-up care are required.

As Vicki told us, “If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I would be homeless.”

2. The Kush Family

Patricia Kush knows exactly how devastating an ACA repeal would be, because she remembers what life was like before Congress passed the legislation. In 2004, Patricia’s husband was diagnosed with diabetes. He was working over 40 hours a week, but his employer didn’t offer health insurance. He tried to get individual coverage through the insurance market, but insurance companies refused to cover his diabetes-related expenses. Because he couldn’t afford an expensive insurance plan and the out-of-pocket costs for diabetes medications, he went without health insurance.

In 2007, Patricia’s husband was hospitalized for serious complications from his illness. He survived, but his time in the hospital cost the couple almost $30,000. “We were lucky, Patricia says, “He didn’t die. The hospital forgave a chunk of the costs, and because of good credit, we were able to get a 10-year loan to pay off the rest of the medical bills. But not everyone is as lucky as we were.”

These days, Patricia’s husband is on her health insurance, but their future is far from secure. “If something happened to me, or I lost my job, and Obamacare had been repealed, he would be in real trouble,” Patricia says. Because he has a pre-existing condition, insurance companies would not be required to cover him if Obamacare were repealed outright. “Even though we don’t currently use the health care exchanges, I feel as if it is very important to tell our story from when my husband wasn’t able to get insurance,” she told us. “It would be devastating for so many families if Obamacare is repealed.”

3. Josh Carter

When his son was born in 2014, Josh was working in a stressful and difficult job. According to his wife Sarah, the anxiety and long hours were placing a major strain on the whole family, but they needed the job to be able to support themselves. By the time their son turned one, Josh’s health and the family’s quality of life were suffering. Josh was eventually able to find a contract job to provide for his family, with one major catch—it didn’t include health benefits. But because Obamacare provides people with access to insurance marketplaces, he was able to find health coverage for him, his wife, and his baby through the exchanges and take a new job.

As important as coverage was for Josh, it was even more important for his son. Since the ACA was passed, nearly 2 million kids have gained health insurance that includes essential screenings and immunizations. Josh’s son benefited from blood pressure screening, vision screening, lead screening, and oral health risk assessments.

“My husband would never have been able to take this opportunity if it wasn’t for the ACA and the ability to buy affordable health insurance outside of his employer,” his wife Sarah says. His contract job turned into a permanent job that he loves—an opportunity he would not have had without access to safe, affordable health care.

If Tom Price listened to his constituents, he would hear thousands of stories like these. Vicki, Patricia, Josh and their families all benefited from coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In Vicki’s case, it probably saved her life. Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that covers the people who currently depend on it would simply cost lives.

If Tom Price is going to continue his plot to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he owes people like Vicki, Josh, and Patricia a plan that ensures they can continue to get the coverage they need.

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Culture

Why I Need to March Today

Every day since November 9, my phone has buzzed nonstop. Friends, old roommates, someone I met once at a poetry reading—they were all planning to come to DC for the Women’s March. Knowing that I’m surrounded by so many dedicated people makes me excited for the history I am about to be a part of.

I participated in the Occupy movement and I took to the streets with Black Lives Matter, but this feels different to me. It feels different because it’s about women—and because we are standing up against a demagogue and saying, “This is not the America we believe in.”

It feels like solidarity.

Not everyone feels this way. Many people were upset that the original name—Million Women March—was taken from the labors of black men and women fighting for civil rights, and early attempts by activists to make the march more inclusive of people of color were met with backlash from organizers. The name has since been changed, and the members of the committee were shown to be diverse and inclusive, but many people—women of color who were originally sidelined, and white women who are struggling with an intersectional platform that is unfamiliar to them—are still frustrated.

As a white woman, I know I have much less at risk over the next four years than many women. Women of color, or in the LGBTQ community, or who have disabilities, or women who are Muslim—they are all much more vulnerable than I can even imagine.

That is exactly why I think we need this march.

We need this march to come together first and foremost as women. We need to show our willingness to defy injustice and stand up for the values we believe in—whether it’s control over our reproductive choices, whether we marry and who we marry, fair wages, and equal opportunity. We need to come together for ourselves, our country, and the watching world.

This act of resistance will seep into our bones.

Will this march stop conservatives from defunding Planned Parenthood? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which provides contraceptive coverage for millions of women? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march protect Violence Against Women grants, which President Trump wants to defund? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop the parade of dubious and corrupt cabinet picks from being confirmed? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop President Trump from spewing hateful and dishonest rhetoric? Almost definitely not.

But that’s not what this march is for. This march will awaken something in the people who participate, not just in DC, but in the more than 600 participating towns and cities around the world. This act of resistance will seep into our bones, and help us to march on, together, in the days ahead.

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