Read a Book: Fall 2018 Releases for When the News Is Too Much

After I graduated from college, I stopped reading books. I still read constantly — the Internet is great at inundating us with writing — but it was always piecemeal. I’d take in a few hundred words from breaking news reports or beloved blogs, or a few thousand from think pieces. For a while, that felt like it worked.

Then the Trump administration happened. For the past two years, reading the news has felt like inviting the worst parts of humanity to practice punching me in the solar plexus. What’s worse, on days that felt comparatively slow — when we weren’t on the brink of war or gutting our health care or bulldozing our immigration law — I got anxious. I was starting to depend on the Trump administration to provide me with something to which I could react.

That mode of thinking is exhausting. Even worse, it’s limiting. Instead of focusing on what society has the potential to be, I was focused only on the depths to which I hoped we wouldn’t sink.

It turns out that books can be a helpful remedy to this problem. They provide room for writers to explore, to indulge nuance, to push on boundaries, and provide readers the time to reflect on what’s been written. And, unlike Twitter, they don’t shine a bright electronic light in my eyes when I’m trying to go to bed.

This the first in a regular series rounding up books the TalkPoverty staff loves. We’re kicking it off with new releases that are all relevant to today’s most pressing issues, but excel in delving into the shades of gray that are often missing from breaking news coverage and Twitter threads.



The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

In some ways, The Golden State is a classic road novel: It follows its main character, Daphne, as she flees San Francisco and sets out for the high desert of California. She’s looking, like so many travelers before her, for freedom, adventure, and a break from bureaucracy. The catch is that unencumbered freedom isn’t a real option: Every point in Daphne’s journey is marked by her caretaking of her 16-month-old daughter, Honey.

Daphne’s relationship with her daughter, and with motherhood, has a fullness and honesty I’ve only seen once before (in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts). She loves her daughter desperately, but her exhaustion and frustration with Honey’s needs and tantrums slowly build into something like dread and rage. The result is a novel that’s both beautiful and challenging, probing ideas around domesticity and freedom of movement that, in worse books, are treated as if they are opposites.

For you if: You’re interested in experimental stream-of-consciousness works, or themes around immigration, parenting, and domesticity.


The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Park’s last novel, completed shortly before his death, is another, completely different, mother-daughter tale. It alternates between 1980s Brazil and 1990s Los Angeles while the main character, Mara, cares for a woman dying of stomach cancer who dredges up memories of Mara’s complicated relationship with her mother. It’s a story about the way Mara survived in both countries — as an undocumented caretaker in the United States and as a poor child in Brazil — that’s engaging, if slightly soapy.

The book alternates between being thrilling and introspective, vacillations that are almost certainly due to Park imbuing the women for whom Mara was caring with the same illness that was killing him.

For you if: You want to a novel with compelling characters that’s heavy on plot, or themes around being undocumented or providing health care.



Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World by Annie Lowrey

Universal Basic Incomes are officially mainstream, but advocates of the policy — from Silicon Valley tech bros to libertarians to Black Lives Matter activists — are strange bedfellows with very different explanations for why we should give everyone a monthly cash sum.

Lowrey’s book walks through each group’s justification for backing the policy. She’s thorough and respectful of subjects throughout, but clear about whose arguments she is — and isn’t — buying.

For you if: You want an accessible long read on a newly-trendy economic policy.


What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

This pocket-sized rebuttal to the oft-cited Hillbilly Elegy re-situates Appalachia as part of the United States, instead of the far-thrown Trump Country that has been the subject of media fascination.

Catte, a historian from East Tennessee, walks readers through the region’s history with industry and race, and current residents’ organizing efforts around land and labor. While the book doesn’t transform the region into a liberal paragon, Catte does portray it with the kind of nuance you would expect from a real place: one with serious problems, a complicated history, and a lot of very different people trying to figure out what to do next.

For you if: You’re still talking about Linda Tirado’s drunk reading of Hillbilly Elegy.



Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

Sarah Smarsh has been treated as a sort of spokeswoman for the working class since her viral essay, “Poor Teeth,”  captured her family’s experience with a blend of honesty, compassion, and humor that only comes with real experience. Her memoir, Heartland, is written from the very same place as the essay that made her famous: One that has the audacity to love and respect a poor family.

The book tells stories that are equal parts joyful and horrifying, and situates her family’s life in the policies that made it impossible for them to afford health insurance or compete with agribusiness. It’s not quite perfect — the framing device featuring a non-existent daughter doesn’t quite land for me — but it’s an extremely powerful and pointed meditation on class in America.

For you if: You’re a sucker for a beautiful memoir.


Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Before Rebecca Traister published her much-anticipated Good and Mad, Brittney Cooper had written an entire treatise on the power in black women’s anger, and the contempt the country has for it.

Eloquent Rage focuses on the web of sexism, racism, and class, grounding Cooper’s understanding of all three in her own coming of age. And, most importantly, it takes on the current feminist movement — one often grounded in whiteness — and forces readers to recognize how that “fucks shit up for everybody.”

For you if: You prefer your life lessons delivered by someone else’s grandma.


First Person

Trump Is Rewriting Our Immigration Law To Come After Families Like Mine

Late last month, the Trump administration released a draft rule that would change the way immigration works in the United States. Under the proposal, immigration officials will try to predict whether a person applying for a green card might receive government assistance, like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, at any point during their future life in the United States. If it seems possible — because the applicant isn’t wealthy or has a disability — then the green card will be denied, even if the applicant has met all of the other criteria.

There have been rumors that this might happen for months. The first time I heard about it, I was sitting in my summer internship with the city of Dallas. One of my supervisors asked me if I was familiar with possible changes to the “public charge rule,” which requires immigrants to prove that they will not use government benefits before they are granted permanent status. When I shook my head no, she gave me a handout that explained who would be affected.

Individuals with visas or legal permanent residents. Check.
Individuals who have used any federal assistance programs. Check.

I held my breath when I read it, my eyes darting from line to line while I felt the walls close in. This was about my family. They were looking for me.

My parents moved to Dallas from Chihuahua, Mexico in the early 90s. My brothers and I were all born in the United States. We used Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to get our standard vaccines as kids, and my parents got their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. We followed all the rules and did exactly what we were supposed to do.

I always follow the rules. I just started my senior year of high school, and I have my days completely packed with extracurricular activities. That means debate on Mondays and Wednesdays, LULAC meetings Wednesday mornings, mock trial on Tuesdays, We Fight Fear meetings after school, volunteering Saturdays and Sundays, and SAT prep in between. I don’t climb back into bed until 12 a.m., after finishing homework, sending emails, and setting up meetings.

I’m not just doing these things because I like them. I’ve never felt I have the option to turn down opportunities, because if I push myself hard enough to get a scholarship then all the late nights will be worth it.

I’m in the process of setting up my Common Application profile for college. I always knew that my parents wouldn’t be able to afford my tuition, and that I would have to cobble together grants and scholarships to pay my way. So it’s up to me to prove to colleges that they should pay for me to attend.

But when I heard about the new immigration rule this summer, I had to second-guess the one thing I was most certain about: going to college. If I applied for Pell Grants to cover tuition, was that going to count against my parents? If their income dipped below the threshold in this new immigration rule, would I need to stay home and get a job to ensure they weren’t targeted? If I followed through on my dreams, and on all the work I’ve put in, would I be betraying my family?

If I applied for Pell Grants to cover tuition, was that going to count against my parents?

I’m not the only one who is scared. Once my mom found out about the rule, she told me she wasn’t comfortable continuing my little brother’s Medicaid coverage. He’s only 3 years old, and he has so much growing left to do. The government knew it would create this risk when it announced the new rule: Documents from the Department of Homeland Security predict that people will receive less health care, and that disease rates will increase for U.S. citizens who have not been vaccinated yet.

Those documents are talking about my little brother.

When the rule finally came out last week, and I got to look at real words on paper instead of wading through a swirl of rumors, I got a tiny taste of relief. This version of the rule won’t apply to people who already have green cards, and my mom just renewed hers. For now, I can daydream about college, and my parents can sign my brother up for health insurance.

Just a short while ago, we wouldn’t have made the cut. There are hundreds of thousands of people who still won’t. Those people, and those families, will see the opportunities they’ve worked so hard for finally within their children’s reach, only to be forced to wave them away, in case it costs them everything. They’ll do exactly what we did: pass on health insurance and decline the few extra bucks to make sure we didn’t go to bed hungry. What else are we supposed to do when the government forces us to choose between our families and our future?

Even though I’m safe for now, I don’t feel like I’ve won. This isn’t a game. Not to me, not to my brothers or my parents.

But as I sit here and contemplate which college campus I’ll be walking onto this time next fall, if I get to go to one at all, that’s what it feels like. It feels like they’re using children as chess pieces in a twisted political contest to force immigrants into the shadows of a nation we helped build.



Hepatitis C Patients Are Being Forced Into Underground Buyers’ Clubs

Lisa Kaye Gray has been tired since she was 26 years old. Now 52, and a grandmother with rust-red hair and a lilting Louisiana accent, she is finally gaining the energy to help her grandson chase squirrels through the backyard. But her voice still breaks as she recalls decades marked by fatigue and muscle aches; early symptoms of hepatitis C.

“I missed out on so much,” she mourns. “Just being tired, not able to enjoy life.”

Gray acquired hepatitis C in 1991, and spent more than twenty years living with the virus’s effects. Though she didn’t begin to experience symptoms of major liver damage until 2015, she says she spent most of her life feeling fatigued, sometimes to the point of being bedridden, and nauseated.

Interferon treatment, the first available treatment for chronic hepatitis C, was introduced in 1996, but the cure rate was low; around 30 percent for genotype 1, the most common form of the virus in North America. It was also difficult to administer, requiring self-injection into the stomach, and came with a host of side-effects, ranging from nausea and muscle aches to long-term autoimmune dysfunction. The full treatment course lasted six months to a year. Gray tried interferon treatment for a month, but discontinued it when she learned she was pregnant.

“I’m glad I did,” says Gray. “I’ve heard horror stories about people who took it for the year.”

Gray is not the only hepatitis C patient who chose decades living with the virus over attempting interferon. David Cowley of Wales lived with hepatitis C for 35 years, refusing interferon because of its side effects and low success rate. But Gray and Cowley share something else in common: neither has hepatitis C anymore.

One day in 2015, Gray’s boss noticed that she looked, she recalls, “as yellow as the walls.” Because jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) in patients with hepatitis C is a sign of serious illness, she immediately went to her doctor and learned that she had liver cirrhosis. She applied for disability benefits, and while waiting for a determination, began undergoing the testing procedures that would allow her to take a new kind of medicine, one with a much higher success rate and far fewer side effects.

Gilead initially set the price for full treatment between $74,000 and $94,000

Sofosbuvir is a direct acting antiviral (DAA) medication sold by American biopharmaceutical powerhouse Gilead Sciences under the brand names Harvoni, Sovaldi, and Epclusa (Harvoni and Epclusa also contain other drugs, making them single-pill regimens, while Sovaldi requires a second drug to be prescribed with it). These drugs have a 90 percent or higher cure rate across a variety of genotypes (for genotype 1, the cure rate closes on 100 percent), and Harvoni in particular boasts only mild, short-term side effects like fatigue. All three medications are consumed orally and take 12 weeks to complete. In comparison to the old treatments, these DAAs function like a miracle. Gilead initially set the price for full treatment between $74,000 and $94,000 for patients in the United States.

Medicaid covers the treatment — but there’s a catch. There are 3.5 million people in the United States living with hepatitis C, and state Medicaid programs find it difficult to afford to treat patients at the prices Gilead set. (Rough math says curing all current cases would cost Medicaid half of its annual budget). Most state Medicaid programs initially dealt with the shortfall by limiting treatment to people who meet their criteria. In 25 states that criteria includes abstinence from illegal substances, even though most new hepatitis C infections in the United States are the result of injection drug use.

In 32 states, patients must also have liver damage. Newly-infected patients, or those whose disease hasn’t progressed far enough, must wait until they suffer potentially irreversible liver damage before they receive coverage for their treatment. In addition to more time living with the symptoms, this also increases the risk of complications like liver cancer and decreases the effectiveness of treatment. In one study of economically disadvantaged patients, only 82 percent of patients with decompensated cirrhosis (a severe form of liver damage) achieved viral elimination.

Medication access is not only an issue for chronic hepatitis patients in the United States. Other countries have been battling high drug costs as well, including Australia and the United Kingdom. David Cowley was fortunate — and tenacious — enough to get into a 2013 drug trial for Harvoni in the UK. When he learned about the trial, which required a weekly trip to an office that was 200 miles from his home, he called and “pestered them for weeks” until he got in. Within months of beginning treatment, he was cleared of the virus that had been slowly killing him for 35 years. Then the drug that saved his life hit the market, and he learned the price tag.

“I was disgusted by the prices,” he says. So he decided to travel to Bangladesh to get hold of generic versions of the medication for distribution to other patients in need. Cowley was not the only person with that idea.

James Freeman, a doctor who runs a telehealth program in Australia, and Greg Jeffreys, a historian and author also based out of Australia, run what each hesitantly call “buyers’ clubs” for hepatitis C medications. Cowley, Freeman, and Jeffreys all know each other, though they operate separately. The clubs function under the same essential premise: That hepatitis C medication should be available at free or low cost to everyone who needs it. They help patients acquire the generic drugs, offering full 12-course treatments for around $500-$1000, and sometimes less based on need and availability.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Jeffreys of his service. “Someone contacts me, I ask for some kind of medical report to show they actually have hep C, I explain what it costs, they send me a copy of their report, their shipping address, their contact phone number, a payment method — whatever that might be — and two weeks later they have their medicine.”

These buyers’ clubs operate by taking advantage of personal importation laws, which vary by country. For the U.S. that means buyers must import less than a three-month supply, and they cannot sell or distribute the medication. An added provision that a medication must be unavailable domestically leaves the legality of these practices in somewhat of a gray area .

Rochelle C. Dreyfuss, co-director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at New York University, says that under patent law, buying and importing a cheaper version of the same product from another country is legal, but the addition of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations make pharmaceuticals especially tricky. “I think [this] confusion is everyone’s confusion,” she notes, adding that if the FDA were to crack down, “one side will say it’s available domestically, you just have to pay more money, and the other that these patients can’t afford to buy it here.”

Although the FDA is not currently intervening in these buyers clubs, some doctors are wary and advise against importing generic drugs. After all, how can a buyer know what’s truly in them; whether they are effective or potentially dangerous?

This is a sentiment Lisa Gray understands. Jaundiced and living with disabling liver cirrhosis, Gray was eagerly awaiting her medication approval — now that she was finally sick enough to meet the criteria. But when she began receiving $1,500 monthly in disability checks after her liver damage left her unable to work, she lost the Medicaid coverage that would have paid for her treatment. (Louisiana expanded Medicaid the following year, but 17 states still have not done so). Uninsured, and unable to pay the premium and co-pay for private insurance, she began looking into alternative options.

“At first I was very skeptical,” she says of the buyers clubs. “It even went through my mind that they’ve got all these people paid to praise generics…but I found Greg Jeffreys, I talked to him, and I realized it’s not a scam.”

Gray says Jeffreys worked with her financial situation by getting his medication connection, which is based out of India, to send her a recently expired 8-week course of sofosbusvir free of cost. That left her responsible only for the other drug she needed to take with it, daclatasvir. She paid $350 for it, by credit card. When she was unable to come up with the funds for her remaining treatment, Jeffreys sent it to her free of charge.

“It was scary because you don’t know if it’s a real medication or not, but I thought what do I have to lose? I was throwing up everyday, it was horrible,” recalls Gray. “I started taking that medicine; my eyes were yellow, they got white. It was amazing.”

Gray also remembers her doctor insisting that she wait until she could find funding for the prescribed treatment course, rather than using a personal import scheme to buy generics. “My doctor literally screamed at me. [She said] ‘they’re not regulated, they could be fake.’”

But Jeffreys, Freeman, and Cowley, who now all use a shared seller out of India, insist that fear is unnecessary — at least when it comes to their medicines. Freeman reports that he has seen a 94 percent cure rate with his own patients. With the benefit of his medical background and connections with the Tasmanian government, Freeman says he’s had his drugs tested from the start, when he was importing raw materials from China, and that they are virtually identical to those found in Harvoni and other brand name medicines. Jeffreys added that the Indian connection the three use now gets the drugs directly from Mylan, who partners with Gilead Sciences to manufacture these drugs in India.

“These products are licensed by Gilead and approved by the FDA,” Jeffreys asserts. “To say they’re dangerous is crazy.”

This doesn’t mean that all buyers’ clubs are created equally. As with any unregulated enterprise, copycats have popped up on Facebook claiming to have special contracts for drugs with other countries. Although there’s no way to know for sure whether these are illegitimate, they — unlike Jeffreys, Cowley, and Freeman — did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

States have been slowly lifting regulations surrounding Medicaid access to direct acting antivirals for hepatitis C. As of 2017, 18 states have lifted the liver fibrosis restrictions and 22 others are granting coverage to patients with less severe liver damage; four of these require only mild fibrosis. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services has questioned Gilead and other companies about their pricing in the hopes of being able to grant coverage for more patients. The hope is that as more drugs become available and drug costs lower, more states will lift or lessen eligibility restrictions so that patients in the United States can access these medicines through their providers.

Still, Jeffreys says he has seen no decline in Medicaid patients from the United States who need meds. “I get heaps of them,” he says about clients on Medicaid. “It’s been exactly the same for the past three years. I get probably 100 e-mails from the United States every week.”

For low-income patients like Gray, who lose or are denied coverage, these buyers clubs have become a lifeline, linking them to treatments that change their lives within months.

“It’s just an amazing feeling to know that this virus is not alive in me anymore,” says Gray, who had no detectable viral load twelve weeks after treatment. “I just get mad that my own country could not help me.”



Inside the Effort to Organize Freelance Journalists

The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, Slate, Vice — whether at new media outlets or legacy publications, newsrooms across the country are unionizing. Most recently, 75 percent of the staff at The Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press signed union cards with The NewsGuild.

While these victories are welcome for staffers who were previously working without the protections of union membership, their collective bargaining units and contracts usually omit the lowest, yet largest, rung of the newsroom labor ladder: freelancers. And without organizing freelancers, journalists’ unions rest atop a shaky hierarchy of labor, which is bound to be upset.

Finding data on the number of freelancers is tricky. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which are the best available — show that there are currently about 37,995 reporters and correspondents employed as staffers by newspapers, publishers, broadcasters, and other outlets, while about 83,968 people are self-employed writers and authors, a category which includes those who write for digital news organizations and blogs. The bureau predicts that the number of employed reporters and correspondents will decrease by 10 percent through 2026, while the ranks of freelance writers and authors will grow by 8 percent during the same period. David Hill, a freelance journalist and vice president of the National Writers Union, is confident that “every single media outlet” uses freelance writers.

“I don’t think anyone has good numbers on this,” says Hill. “Some might quibble with how we decide to define ‘journalist’ here, because there is a lot of freelance writing that exists in the grey area between what was maybe once referred to as blogging and what we may think of as journalism, especially online.”

Coming together to bargain collectively is key for freelancers because of the many professional difficulties they face, beginning with low pay. According to the BLS, the median pay for writers and authors was $61,820 in 2017, but that figure masks business expenses and benefits, such as health care, which freelancers must independently purchase.

Without regular work as columnists or contributing writers, freelancers must jump from assignment to assignment, pitching story ideas, negotiating rates, completing articles, and then hoping for full and timely payment. And when publications go under or change their business models, freelancers are left without any recourse but to hunt for the next opportunity.

Describing the issues faced by members of the National Writers Union, Hill says, “Their issues are the same as every freelance journalist’s: low rates, waiting for many months to get paid with no guarantee of when or if the check will arrive, and a general feeling that rates are too low to make a full-time living anymore without supplementing your freelance income somehow.”

Typically, unions focus on organizing a “collective bargaining unit,” which is a well-defined body of workers who are not considered freelancers, contractors, or temps. This is often seen by labor organizers as a strategic necessity for classifying workers as proper employees whose right to unionize is legally protected. Under current law, independent contractors don’t have collective bargaining rights; regulators have even used antitrust law to go after groups of contractors who attempt to organize.

Additionally, unions usually operate on dues collected from their members’ paychecks by their employers, in a fashion similar to payroll taxes. Freelancers typically do not have any deductions made from their payments, making dues collection a more onerous process.

A branch of the United Automobile Workers, the National Writers Union is one of the only labor unions open to freelance journalists. Without a well-defined collective bargaining unit nor access to the traditional means of collecting dues, it has been creative in its approach to organizing. Members are free to join or leave as they please and must opt into paying dues. The union counts about 850 journalists among its dues-paying members.

The union is not able to collectively bargain for these writers, since they don’t work for any one outlet, but members are attracted to its other services and benefits, such as providing individual or group legal representation in specific disputes, lobbying lawmakers for legislation protecting freelancers, and negotiating voluntary agreements with publications. Most recently, the National Writers Union reached an agreement with the socialist magazine Jacobin, stipulating minimum rates, kill fees, payment deadlines, and more.

Labor law works against us and forces us to be creative. Whatever union freelancers end up forming will be very non-traditional.

The Freelancers Union operates in some similar ways, although it is technically a non-profit organization rather than a certified union. Executive Director Caitlin Pearce estimates that 93,750 of the organization’s members are writers or editors, including journalists. Membership is voluntary and free.

“Freelancers Union offers its members a voice on advocacy issues impacting the independent workforce, resources, education, and events helping freelancers grow their network and navigate the ups and downs of freelancing, and benefits including health, dental, life, disability, liability, and retirement,” says Pearce. The organization is funded by state and private grants, donations, and paid services — the last of which has led critics to accuse the Freelancers Union of being more interested in hawking insurance products than organizing workers.

Together with two dozen other workers’ organizations, the Freelancers Union and National Writers Union were able to lobby New York City to pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which went into effect in 2017. The law includes provisions requiring written contracts for freelance work, mandating a 30-day deadline for payment, and awarding freelancers double damages in court. It is touted as providing the strongest protections for freelancers anywhere in the nation.

While the Freelance Isn’t Free Act is certainly the highest profile recent victory, there are ways beyond legislation that freelancers can exert their collective power. Earlier this month, 115 members of Study Hall, an online community of freelance journalists, announced that they would cease working with The Outline after the website suddenly fired a quarter of its staffers, providing an example of freelancers self-organizing independently from any union in the industry. Similar efforts with freelancers in other sectors, such as food couriers working for Uber, have succeeded where traditional unions have failed or feared to venture.

“The nuts and bolts of how to do this is very tricky, and nobody has figured out a perfect model yet,” says Hill of organizing freelance journalists. “Labor law works against us and forces us to be creative. Whatever union freelancers end up forming will be very non-traditional.”



Arizona Had A Plan To Make the Wealthy Pay For Education. The Supreme Court Shut It Down.

All throughout the hot Arizona summer, you could find public school teachers decked out in red t-shirts stamped with the phrase #RedForEd. They were everywhere — tabling at community events, discussing the lack of public education funding at summer barbeques, wielding clipboards and wandering parking lots in the scorching afternoon sun in search of registered voters.

After years of funding cuts, the 2017-2018 school year culminated in a statewide teacher walk-out in protest of Arizona’s poor public school conditions and low educator pay. During the summer, supporters shifted their focus to Invest in Education, gathering 270,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative that would increase income taxes for the wealthy and raise $690 million for public education. But in a recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court, the Invest in Education initiative has been removed from the November ballot, effectively silencing educators and refusing Arizona residents the opportunity to vote to increase public school funding.

The Arizona Supreme Court decision is not just a blow to the thousands of supporters who spent months protesting, organizing, and petitioning. It is a rejection of a literal phenomenon. The Arizona walk-out followed similar teacher protests in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia, a movement resembling a wildfire that caught and took hold state by state. For six days last April, more than 1,000 public schools across Arizona closed and nearly one million students stayed home. An estimated 50,000 red-shirted supporters marched in Phoenix, with a throng of 300 music teachers forming an impromptu spirit band. In the last days of the walkout, as state lawmakers argued late into the night about the education budget, educators kept watch outside the State Capitol. Some slept on the floor of the lobby.

Only after Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill on May 3 to provide a gradual 19 percent salary increase for teachers did they agree to end their protest. Still, many worried that the budget couldn’t support the $600 million annual increase. State lawmakers partially funded the raises by creating a new car registration fee and raising property taxes in low-income school districts—both of which would shift the cost burden onto low-income people. Ducey also promised that nearly half of the funding would come from overly-optimistic projections of future economic growth, as well as surplus in the Medicaid budget due to low enrollment numbers.

To make sure the teacher raises and other education needs were fully funded through a dedicated source, educators turned their attention to the ballot initiative. If passed, the Invest in Education initiative would have raised the income tax rate by 3.46 percentage points for individuals earning more than $250,000 or households earning more than $500,000. For individuals earning more than $500,000 or households that earn more than $1 million, it would have raised income tax rates by 4.46 percentage points.

“We’re going to gather as many signatures as possible to qualify for the November ballot,” Marisol Garcia of the Arizona Education Association told CBS in June. “We’re going out to the zoo, we’re going to go to grocery stores, libraries, soccer games, we’re going to ask families, all of whom supported us during this movement, to join us.”

The state’s new law requires ballot initiatives to be free of all technical errors, including using the correct font size on petitions

And they did. Organizers collected 120,000 more signatures than the state required. They did so even with the state’s new strict compliance law, which requires citizen ballot initiatives to be free of all technical errors, including using the correct font size on petitions, ensuring that voters sign their full names and don’t mark outside the designated signature box, and having identical wording in paper and online versions of petitions. Organizers across issues say such strict compliance regulations are unrealistic and inappropriately burdensome for grassroots-led efforts, effectively preventing citizens from being able to propose their own laws. Strict compliance was passed by conservative lawmakers after a citizen-led effort to increase the state minimum wage was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2016.

In early August, an opposition group led and financed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce argued in court that the 100-word description, which appeared at the top of the signatory page, did not reflect the full scope of the initiative. In addition to raising taxes on the wealthy, it would also “eliminate the indexing of income tax brackets to account for inflation.” The group also said the initiative description should have used the phrase “percentage point” instead of “percent” to describe the increase in tax rates. The judge ruled in favor of Invest in Education. But the opposition group appealed the decision and the case moved to the Arizona Supreme Court.

On August 29, just before the long Labor Day weekend, the Arizona Supreme Court voted to reverse the decision of the lower court and removed Invest in Education from the ballot. In the decision, Chief Justice Scott Bales wrote that the omission of the indexing explanation “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

In response to the decision, many initiative supporters angrily decried the packing of the court by Governor Ducey. In 2016, he signed legislation to increase the number of Arizona Supreme Court Justices from five to seven, and has appointed three justices since taking office in 2015.  State Senator Martin Quezada Tweeted: “The @dougducey-stacked AZ Supreme Court just saved the 1% from the horror of having to pay their fair share for the education of our children.”

Teacher and co-chair of Invest in Ed Joshua Buckley said that voters would have supported the initiative—an opinion backed up by recent polling, which showed that 65 percent of surveyed Arizona voters supported it. “The politicians and those in power know that Invest in Ed was going to pass, that community members, that educators, that parents and faith leaders all know that we need to invest in our student’s education,” said Buckley. To Buckley’s credit, there is some real evidence that conservatives are trying to thwart ballot initiatives that they know are popular. A New York Times article from 2016 quotes a member of the Republican State Leadership Committee saying “ballot initiatives will not be the left’s mechanism for gaining power and advancing their agenda,” and asserting that conservatives need to “reject their efforts and promote our own.”

In these first weeks back to school, educators are both heartbroken and angry, but remain committed to the fight. Becky Graseck, a math teacher and #RedForEd organizer, was one of thousands of volunteers who collected signatures this summer, her infant daughter strapped to her chest in a carrier. When she heard about the decision to remove the initiative, Graseck says she was stunned, especially since it had passed so easily through the lower court.

Graseck says, “They are going to make us fight for every millimeter of ground, but the fight makes us stronger. It makes us that much more informed and knowledgeable and brings that many more people in. And it makes them angry and ready to work.”