Let your voice be heard

Monthly archive

March 2018

The Problem with Housing

in Miscellaneous/Political Issues by

Houston Justice of the Peace Lincoln Goodwin sums up eviction as “If you did not pay, you cannot stay.” For minority communities, specifically the African American and Latinx communities in America, the issue of wealth disparity and systematic racism has incredible impacts on the housing, or lack thereof, that is available. In “the more than 4,500 evictions in the 77090 zip code” in Houston, TX, those evicted are “49 percent black and 30 percent Hispanic.” Eviction and poor housing are commonplace, rather than uncommon. Poor housing also isn’t simply unclean living conditions, but also numerous health code violations.  While legal protections exist to keep housing safe, only those on top of their rent are able to take advantage of these; many living in impoverished conditions do not have the luxury of paying their rent every month.

After Hurricane Harvey, tenants were told to pay rent or move out by landlords for unlivable apartments. The City of Houston allows landlords to continue to charge rent if a living area is still partially livable, and so many landlords continued to charge rent and late fees to people whose homes were devastated by flooding. Not only that, but for people who were unable to work during Harvey and thus weren’t paid, rental fees were still required. Those who couldn’t pay were evicted.

Evictions have increased steadily as rent prices soar but pay remains stagnant. In total, the number of eviction cases in Harris County, TX exceeded 68,000 for 2016. According to a MacArthur Foundation “How Housing Matters” study done in 2014 by Matthew Desmond, landlords in Milwaukee, WI evict roughly 16 households per day- and those are only the evictions done legally. Even more people are evicted through what are called “soft evictions”: the renters move out once they fall behind on rent, or landlords pressure, even threaten, tenants to leave without going through the court system.

Applicants to housing programs, especially ones run by the federal government, take years to make it to the top because the housing demand is far too great for the system. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website even says “since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common.” Evictions also significantly limit future housing options, as landlords are far less likely to rent to someone with a previous eviction. It seems strange that programs in place to help people who need housing box out those who have the greatest need for help.

Eviction seeps into nearly every aspect of life, through loss of possessions and constant moving. When people are turned out onto the street or move to a family’s house, they are only able to take the bare minimum of their possessions with them, forcing them to leave the rest on the street. Evicted families are also unlikely to stay in the same area, often moving as they try to find new housing. Children then bounce from school to school, leaving homework and their education by the wayside. Eviction completely disrupts life for those affected by it, and hardens the shell of poverty around the families affected by it. For the poorest renters in America, eviction is a fact of life, a cloud that hangs over their family each month. With little monetary assistance and increasingly higher rents, lower quality housing and higher rates of eviction have become the norm, rather than the exception.

Why should we, as the St. John’s community care? We spend more on school for a year than many of the people that deal with eviction spend in two years on housing. Government agencies focus on trying to stop homelessness or help people once they ARE homeless, instead of trying to confront the root of the problem- eviction. By pushing representatives — local, regional, and national— to commit themselves to creating better housing and improving rental terms, we are able to create a better city. As one of the most privileged groups in the city, we have quite a bit of responsibility to do our part.

The St. John’s community following Hurricane Harvey mobilized to help those of our community move out and begin the first steps of putting their lives back together. What could we accomplish as a community if we put that same energy towards helping those who have been affected by eviction? While we may not be able to use our manpower to the same extent, the links below can give you a forum to let you voice be heard. Write, and let your representatives know that YOU care about evictions, and the way in which it impacts our city.

Below is a link that allows you to input your address and it gives you the representatives for your district within the Texas State government, as well as national representatives:

http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/mobile/fyi/

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
Product of Errant Publishing Co.
https://urbanedge.blogs.rice.edu/2017/05/22/mapping-eviction-judgments-in-houston/#.Wq6mK62ZNAZ
https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/After-Harvey-Houston-Landlords-Force-Tenants-to-Pay-Rent-or-Face-Eviction-20170905-0008.html
https://www.chron.com/news/houston-weather/hurricaneharvey/article/Harvey-evacuees-being-evicted-from-still-flooded-12172011.php

Black Panther: Political Shaming to Incite Change

in Miscellaneous/Political Issues by

Marvel superhero movies have always included incredible action, but Ryan Coogler, director of Black Panther, coupled that action with incredible thematic presence to blow the entire world away, myself included. In Black Panther, King T’Challa rules the technologically advanced, isolated nation of Wakanda. During its initial development, Wakandan tribes discovered a metal with nearly infinite technological applications that would soon propel this society to levels of affluence never reached by the outside world. In order to preserve their nation’s fortunes, they cut themselves off from the rest of the world, never sharing any of their wealth or technology with their less fortunate neighbors. Decades later, T’Challa becomes aware of the suffering world around him and struggles to face the morally crushing dilemma of foreign policy. The question of giving up the nation’s security in order to help those in need seems to plague T’Challa’s mind. In fact, viewers cannot help but feel guilty themselves.  In a fictional movie dedicated to overcoming the selfish nature of isolationism and self-preservation, these issues seem very real in modern America. Ryan Coogler uses guilt to incite the need for change across its viewers, and the United States, by describing privilege as something to be shared with the world, rather than kept to oneself.

Personally, Black Panther provoked guilt surrounding my own privilege, and drove me to question how much I have done to help those in need. I remember walking out of the theater shocked after my first viewing of Marvel’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, Black Panther. The action amazed me, the visual effects: stunning, but something about this movie caught me off guard. The way Black Panther portrayed the role of the fortunate made me feel initially confused. After hours of thought, disappointment with myself and  my country rushed through my brain. I have always thought of myself as culturally sensitive and aware of other people’s problems, but Black Panther shot me with a dose of reality: I have done nothing to help solve these problems that I never had to deal with. I have not chosen to use my fortunate position in life to help others. I don’t actively travel the world to help those who can’t afford things so trivial to me, like water and food. I choose to spend money on a new iPhone each year, instead of helping those who weren’t fortunate enough to be born into a family that could serve them the way mine has. The only difference between myself and those living in hunger-stricken poverty is my luck. Hatred of my undeserved position in life boiled in my brain the night after that movie, and all I could feel was shame. Still, one week later, I legitimately felt mortified when I dried my hands with three paper towels, instead of the adequate amount of one. That small action brought on feelings of being part of the problem. My friends and family tell me that I think too much about other people, and that their problems should not bother me, but I can’t stand being a passive bystander any longer.

Shame drove me to write this article, shame drove me to question my position in life, and shame caused me to feel inadequate and discontent with the world today, and I know my friends and family have felt the same reaction. THAT is how Black Panther achieves its goal. Those feelings of inadequacy are what drives people to make change. The way Ryan Coogler intertwines shame into the cultural phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe allows him to send a hard-hitting message across the world that will incite change for good.

GMOs: Greatness Made Obtainable

in Political Issues/Science & Technology by

The era of modern technology has brought a promising addition to the food production and nutrition industry: GMOs.  GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals in which we as humans have altered the sequence of its DNA to produce desired results.  For instance, some plants are modified to be resistant to pesticides, able to grow in certain environments, or even taste differently. As this trend has increased in the world, however, there has been growing opposition to its implementation.  85% of US corn is genetically modified along with 95% of sugar beets and many different crops used in everyday foods. “Non-GMO” has become another fad in the health community on a list that includes “organic” and “gluten-free,” but are GMOs proven to be bad for our health?

On nonGMOproject.org (anti-GMO), it states that any scientific consensus on GMOs is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated by the media.” Even those who wish to see the disappearance of GMOs cannot truthfully claim any scientific backing to their negative effects. Though there have been no conclusive tests that prove negative effects from GMOs (and some that prove the opposite), in one survey 57% of the public states they would not buy genetically modified food (though a vast majority of those likely have).  The natural fear of “science hocus pocus” in our foods prevents people of the world from accurately realizing the positive truth behind modern biotechnology. Not only are there no proven scientific negatives to modern genetic modification, but humans have been doing similar processes through artificial selection for centuries. Neil Degrasse Tyson on GMOs:

“What most people don’t know but they should is that practically every food they buy in the store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows, there’s no long stem roses growing in the wild – even though we don’t eat roses. You list all the fruit and all the vegetables and ask yourself is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is it’s not as large it’s not as sweet it’s not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it.

We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables, and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated. It’s called artificial selection. That’s how we genetically modify. Now we can do it in a lab and all of a sudden you’re gonna complain? If you’re the complainer type go back and eat the apples that grow in the wild.”

Pre-modification banana  

The negative stigma surrounding GMOs must be stopped; not just because it is incorrect, but because the potential benefits of improved genetic modification are astounding.  The first benefit is the significantly increased efficiency of GMO farms. Between 1996 and 2012, crop biotechnology (including genetic modification) was responsible for an additional 122 million tonnes of soybeans and 231 million tonnes of corn. GM crops are allowing farmers to grow more without using additional land. Without this technology in 2012, the same level of global production would have required addition plantings of a total of 15.1 million hectares of land, equivalent to 9% of the arable land in the US or 24% of the arable land in Brazil. Population is rapidly increasing, and we will soon direly need maximum efficiency out of our arable land that only GMOs can provide.  This increased efficiency is also extremely beneficial to the environment. A UK report stated:

Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2012) by 503 million kg (-8.8%). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for nearly two crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.7%.

As our environment is in dire need of assistance that our country is currently not offering (see: https://www.specsjs.com/2018/01/17/environmental-issues-are-heating-up/), improved GMOs are essential for the future of our planet.  Furthermore, through a process called biofortification, crops can actually be made more nutritious and containing certain vitamins necessary for survival in impoverished areas.  One of the worst cases of malnutrition comes from a lack of vitamin A. 250,000-500,000 children a year go blind from vitamin A deficiency, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.  We have developed a genetically modified strain of rice called “golden rice” that could counteract this tragic trend in areas where rice is a stable food. Partially due to GMO opposition, this rice has not been totally distributed.  Though it was ready for distribution in 2002, Scientific American calculates that delays caused by an anti-GMO sentiment have cost 1,440,000 years of potential life (most of the deaths have been small, malnourished children).  

GMOs are the totally beneficial, necessary wave of the future. Though I think it is fine for us to label them as we would any other nutritional information, we need to take steps as a society to ensure the correct information is understood by the public rather than fear-mongering at vege co-ops saying that scientists are messing up our broccoli’s DNA.  I believe that embracing advancements in technology is essential to the well-being of the people of the world, and GMOs are no different.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
Product of Errant Publishing Co.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/builtlean/diet-and-nutrition_b_4323937.html
https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/science/
https://fitnessreloaded.com/eat-gmos/
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/golden-rice-opponents-should-be-held-accountable-for-health-problems-linked-to-vitamain-a-deficiency/

 

Shooting Down Anti-Gun Control Arguments

in Contemporary Politics/Gun Control/Political Issues by

After another tragic yet increasingly unsurprising school shooting in Parkland, FL, I felt compelled to write a few of my responses to common arguments against increased gun control. If you would like to continue the discussion, feel free to write a response in the comments or submit a response article into the Contact Us Page.

Pro Gun Argument #1: Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People.

This is technically true. Just like any inanimate object (such as a bomb or toxic gas), the gun is not acting as its own living entity. However, guns make it much easier for one person to kill numerous people, as seen by America’s frequent, tragic mass shootings. When looking at gun ownership percentage vs. gun deaths on a state-by-state and country-by-country level, there seems to be one irrefutable conclusion: more gun ownership in a place typically catalyzes more gun related deaths.

Pro Gun Argument #2: Gun Control Laws won’t prevent bad people from obtaining guns.

Laws serve as a way to disincentivize people from doing bad things. Heroin, for example, is illegal in the United States. However, people in America still do heroin. Thus, should we legalize heroin? Of course not! We do not structure our laws around how criminals will react to them. Although stricter gun control laws will not completely stop bad people from getting guns, we must not let the perfect get in the way of the good, especially when the stakes are so high. America’s children are counting on Congress to pass any legislation as an attempt to stop them from being massacred at school. After enduring 13 mass shootings, Australia implemented strict gun control laws. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia in over twenty years. Clearly, Gun Control can help in some capacity.

Pro Gun Argument #3: If more good citizens carried guns then we wouldn’t have to worry about mass shootings.

Once again, I would point to the well-established fact that more guns cause more gun related deaths. In the recent Vegas shooting, the shooted slaughtered 59 people at a concert from a building over 1000 feet away. Imagine if everyone in that crowd had been carrying a gun. In the chaos and madness, good people would have inevitably shot at each other, mistaking other people for the killer. This would have exacerbated the death count unimaginably. Or, perhaps some of the crowd would shoot at the building, potentially hitting innocent hotel residents. More guns would have been the very worst possible thing in that scenario — and it would have significantly complicated the jobs of the police officers.

Pro Gun Argument #4: The 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment of the Constitution certainly states that individuals have the right to bear arms. Similarly, the Constitution also plainly states that slaves and those bound to service counted as “three-fifths of all other persons.” The Constitution is far from perfect, and glorifying its words as such actually betrays the intentions of the Founding Fathers. Our Founding Fathers, whom the NRA loves to cite as prime examples of gun advocates, frequently challenged the Constitution. In reference to the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton claimed that he would never expect “perfect work from imperfect man.” The Founding Fathers anticipated that America’s issues would evolve beyond those addressed in the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson proposed that the Constitution should expire and be rewritten by each generation to ensure each generation helped shape the government. If the Constitution was re-drafted today, stricter gun control would almost definitely be included in it — a recent poll found 97% of people support increased gun control measures.

The 2nd Amendment, moreover, is not a carte blanche for citizens to own whatever types of weapons they’d like. Just as citizens are not allowed to own fully automatic machine guns (in almost all cases) or nuclear weapons (in ALL cases), there must be clear restrictions on the types of weapons people should be allowed to own. There is a clear distinction between hunting weapons and assault (n. a physical attack; v. make a physical attack on) rifles. As the definition of ‘assault’ suggests, an assault rifle is not a defensive weapon. Seemingly, the most practical use for an assault weapon is, as the name suggests, an assault. The most memorable mass shootings of recent history share a common denominator: the AR-15. That was the gun that killed 17 students and faculty members in a span of three minutes last week at a school in Parkland, FL, That was the gun that mowed down innocent concert-goers at a Vegas music festival, killing 59 and injuring 100s. That was the gun that killed 20 first-graders and six teachers in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Every single American child deserves to go to school without a fear of being gunned down during class. While I am certainly not suggesting that Congress bans all guns, Congress should be able to drastically limit the accessibility of assault weapons and guns in general. Hopefully, congressmen can give their votes to preventing gun violence so that they don’t have to give their thoughts and prayers.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
Product of Errant Publishing Co.
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/10/upshot/How-to-Prevent-Gun-Deaths-The-Views-of-Experts-and-the-Public.html?mcubz=0
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/02/15/australia-hasnt-had-fatal-mass-shooting-since-1996-heres-what-did/340345002/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/14/ar-15-mass-shootings/339519002/
http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-control-poll-americans-support-assault-weapons-ban-after-florida-shooting-2018-2

Abortion: A Mother’s Decision

in Gender Issues/Political Issues by

One of the principles our country was founded upon is a clear separation between church and state. So why are we still living in a country governed by religious ideals? In 2011, Texas, known for being a conservative state, slashed the budget for Planned Parenthood by 67%. Just last year, the Texas House approved new abortion restrictions, banning the most common form of second trimester procedure. As Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, eloquently states, “the sad truth is this bill’s supporters are peddling lies to shame women who seek an abortion and make it harder for them to get access to the reproductive health care they need.” Texas is making it increasingly difficult for women to get an abortion, resulting in an increase in teenage pregnancies, especially in poor communities. As a society, do we want children brought into unstable families where they are an unwanted burden on the mother? Being a mother is a monumental and wonderful undertaking, but most teenagers are just not ready for that endeavor and should not be deprived of their futures simply because the government does not subsidize abortions. Why is it okay for the Texas government to hamper  people from getting an abortion based off of religious values? It is completely justified to think abortion is wrong if that is what your beliefs tell you, but that does not give you the right to intervene in other people’s lives and prevent them from getting one. This is a complicated issue and there are still many debates about at what point in the pregnancy is abortion immoral, but the decision should ultimately be left to the mother and father of the child. Not the government.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
Product of Errant Publishing Co.
https://www.texastribune.org/2017/05/19/texas-house-approves-sweeping-anti-abortion-bill/
https://thinkprogress.org/texas-family-planning-cuts-3ed9f259c98e/
https://www.thenation.com/article/texas-made-it-more-difficult-to-get-an-abortion-and-teen-motherhood-increased/
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