By Christina Tudor, 2015 YP4 Fellow
I’ve noticed when I have conversations about the Criminal “Justice” System, we talk about the abstract. People talk about writing laws. People talk about keeping people “safe,” about “bad people” getting punished for their wrongdoings.
But—crime isn’t the root— it’s a symptom of a larger problems: racism and classism. Over-incarceration isn’t connected to reduced crime rates but is actually about reinforcing power hierarchies. This why the majority of those housed in prisons are people of color, people with mental illnesses, and low-income individuals. What we don’t talk about is the real stories of the people unjustly impacted by this system of punishment.
We live in a world where you can be arrested for skipping class, “zero-tolerance” policies, minor infractions against school rules. According to alternet.org, “Students have been taken out of school in handcuffs, held in jail for days at a time, and fines have totaled more than $1,000 for students who miss more than 10 days of school.”
Don’t come to class? Pay a fine.
Don’t have the financial means to pay that fine? You could face jail time.
Did you hear that? If you don’t have the means, you go to jail. This sets the stage for this system to unfairly target low-income people. Not to mention that many see America’s prison system as the reinvention of slavery and a means to uphold white supremacy.
Instead of policies that truly reform and restore—we implement policies that criminalize and punish . We need long-term solutions. We would rather criminalize instead of actually helping people and finding long-term solutions to problems.
Prisons are also taking the place of mental health facilities. The United States’ current mental health care system is failing to fully support and provide treatment to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer from mental illnesses. As a result, 356,268 people with mental illnesses are now incarcerated while only 35,000 people are receiving treatment from hospitals – this means there are now 10 times more people with mental illness in prisons than mental institutions.
Nonetheless, lawmakers have sanctioned a major roadblock to expanding affordable access to mental health care. The conservative politicians who continue to resist Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion are preventing an estimated 1.2 million low-income Americans from getting coverage for the mental health services they need.
This is a terrible system that is failing so many across the country. The government should be proactive in providing quality education, health care, and public assistance to help people deliver on opportunity – not fail them from the start.
We need to name this problem. Instead, this impacts many peoples’ lives. It disproportionately and unfairly hurts those who have been marginalized—especially, people of color, low income folks, and people with mental illnesses.
It’s not an us vs. them situation.
By Christina Tudor, 2015 YP4 Fellow
Recently the Supreme Court stepped in to keep several Texas abortion clinics open—for now.
This last minute Hail Mary indicates that there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will hear Whole Women’s Health v. Cole the upcoming term.
The Supreme Court successfully stopped the closing of more than half of Texas’ 19 abortion clinics. The justices voted 5-4 to grant an emergency appeal from the clinics after a federal appeals court upheld new mandated clinic regulations
The decision was in response to Texas House Bill2 (HB2) which was essentially a series of unnecessary health laws that were enacted by anti-choice legislators. These legislators were able to get around the Supreme Court’s mandate that no law can interfere with the right to choose under the disguise of making abortions safer for women. These laws require abortion doctors have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals and enacted extensive, expensive architectural provisions for abortion clinics to comply with in order to remain open.
Abortion facilities, just like any other medical facility, should be sanitary, safe and operated by competent medical personnel. Although HB2 is designed to look like a health regulation, it does little to actually help patients. There is no evidence that this actually makes abortion safer for women.
Instead, many clinics are forced to shut down because they can’t afford to make all the required changes.
In fact, according to a publication on Thinkprogress.org, a federal district judge determined that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges,” and he reached similar conclusions with respect to the portions of the law regulating clinic facilities.”
As a result, of HB2 several YP4 alumni have come together to increase abortion access in Texas.
Ryane Ridenour YP4 ’10, Raquel Ortega, FLLA ’12, Steven Hernandez ’13, and Alyssah Roth, YP4 ’14 joined together to fight strict abortion bans by founding the West Fund, the first abortion fund to specifically serve women El Paso, Texas.
Before HB2, Texas had 40 licensed abortion clinics and if the law takes full effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”
This decision resulted in “higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions.”
As a result, the Supreme stepped in and temporary stopped this problematic legislation from taking effect on July 1.
Recently Alyssah from The West Fund spoke to a reporter about a client “Marisol” who was seeking an abortion from local Hilltop clinic. Here’s what she said:
“The process for looking for a clinic, finding money, finding childcare, finding transportation, and everything else can add up and push an appointment so that a person is even further along. So because none of the clinics in the area even do abortions this far along, Marisol had to look further [to Albuquerque, 270 miles away in New Mexico] in order to get an appointment,” said Alyssah Roth, West Fund’s president.
“The full cost was $1,250, and she had no insurance. This does not include the price of travel, childcare, days not at work, and so on. Most abortion funds cannot give a person more than $200-$250, so she had to reach out to multiple funds in order to get the full amount covered. She also said she was able to put in money herself, but that would also make her late on rent.”
Following the court’s 5-4 order, Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which led the lawsuit claimed that, with the temporary hold, the 10 clinics will be able to stay open, in addition to another nine that were not impacted by the provisions.
Here we can see the true power of the Supreme Court can have in advancing equality and important reproductive justice issues.
Monday’s order could even potentially reopen some of the 20 clinics and then some that have already closed.
The West Fund has served 24 clients since they launched six months ago and if the Supreme Court order isn’t upheld then El Paso will be the biggest city in America without an abortion provider.
According to thehill.com, “this is the second time that the Supreme Court has stepped in to temporarily halt pieces of the 2013 law, which activists say gives them hope that the court will eventually overturn lower courts’ decision to uphold the law.”
By Christina Tudor, 2015 YP4 Fellow
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently released a report listing all the ways in which the year old Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to allowing religious exemptions for all sorts of things. NWLC’s report “The Hobby Lobby ‘Minefield’: The Harm, Misuse, and Expansion of the Supreme Court Decision,” highlights how the decision has set the stage for perpetuating discrimination beyond limiting access to birth control and placing restrictions on coverage.
The distortion of “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that informed the Hobby Lobby case has led to a paramedic student claiming his religious beliefs should exempt him from vaccination requirements and some religious groups refusing to provide health care services to sexually-abused refugees. It’s even been used as a defense to try to avoid criminal prosecution for a violent kidnapping.
One Supreme Court decision can do all that damage?
As Justice Ginsburg warned in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
It turns out that she was very right.
According to NWLC’s report, in the last year, there have been “attempts to use RFRA to challenge laws that: protect women, LGBTQ individuals, and students from discrimination; protect employees by allowing them to unionize; promote public health by requiring vaccinations; and require pharmacies to fill lawful prescriptions.”
Distorting the true meaning of religious liberty, the Supreme Court ruled that employers and businesses can use RFRA to justify their incompliance with the ACA. In other words, this decision gives bosses the freedom and the power to discriminate against their employees, and this disproportionately impacts women and their families.
The Hobby Lobby ruling has an even greater impact on working class women and their access to affordable, readily available birth control and health care services that they are entitled to and need. Lack of birth control access can also greatly increase economic instability, therefore further increasing inequality.
Equally troubling are objections to D.C. anti-discrimination laws by The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Alliance Defending Freedom, USCCB and eleven other organizations based upon the distortion of religious liberty.
Clearly Hobby Lobby will continue to have a serious impact on men and women across the country, especially women of color and low-income women, as more individuals and companies try to deny basic rights under the mantle of “religious accommodations.”
By Christina Tudor, 2015 YP4 Fellow
About a week ago I walked twenty five minutes to the closest Forever 21 in pursuit of a professional-looking jacket at a reasonable price. I had to look extra-professional because I was going to be playing the part of law student at 9am the next morning.
As a part of my internship with Young People For (YP4) this summer, I’ll be helping to engage young people in the courts and raise awareness of the importance of judges and the judicial system to advance progressive causes. Because of this, I was given the opportunity to attend the American Constitution Society Convention, a conference for law students and lawyers so I could learn more about the courts and their impact on our everyday lives.
I was surrounded by people in suits. I was probably the only one there who was twenty and couldn’t legally drink at the reception. People were surprised—and impressed—to see that I was only a college student who was there to learn. I was given lots of advice on law school—that it’s worth it, that it’s the worst, that I should go, that I absolutely shouldn’t.
Despite receiving conflicting advice, I learned a lot—both in and out of the panel discussions and speeches. I attended panels on Title IX, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, mass incarceration, and I went to a workshop on writing Op-Eds. I listened to distinguished law professors from top law schools, I listened to Wendy Davis speak about reproductive freedom, economic inequality, women’s rights, and the ways in which these three issues intersect with each other, I attended a Q&A with—wait for it—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It was awesome.
I learned so much. I learned from inspiring, knowledgeable individuals who had a real impact on addressing social issues and equality for marginalized groups within the legal system.
It made me think: would a law degree be a ticket to being one of these people?
But then other thoughts came to my mind: would I be smart enough? Then I looked around the room: most of the people there were white, and most of the people there were men. Most of the universities that were represented were Ivy League. Would I survive in a profession that only caters to a certain demographic of people? A law degree could cost upwards of $80,000 a year for three years. Then there are application fees, LSAT exams and preparation expenses on top of that.
Something that I thought was missing from the convention was addressing how we get people to go to law school so then they can become judges and fill spots in political offices, the Senate, and the Supreme Court in the first place. Because right now only a certain set of financially-able individuals are encouraged to go to law school and are put on track to get there.
If we truly want diversity on the bench and in the legal profession, then we need to start encouraging people of different backgrounds that they should and are capable of successfully receiving a law degree. We need to carve a space for those who belong to marginalized identity groups so then the space doesn’t seem to only belong to predominately white, upper class males.
Too many people get turned off if they feel like they’re going to be in a space where they won’t be valued, heard, or represented.
We need to start churning out lawyers and politicians and other professionals that can understand a wider demographic of people who are really committed to addressing inequalities.
Just a thought.
At the closing of the convention, I sat there and listened to Ruth Bader Ginsburg discuss the sexism she faced in the workplace and I listened to her tell the story of how she struggled to get her first job. Employers told her directly that they didn’t want to hire her because she’s a woman. It’s scary to think that that wasn’t that long ago.
But then they showed us pictures of t-shirts that Justice Ginsburg’s fans made and I thought about the incredible influence that she’s had on many lives and in many monumental court cases. Through all the adversity and discrimination, she made a real difference and that’s worth noticing and celebrating.
Now we just need to pave the way so that more people have the opportunity to get there.
By Christina Tudor, Current YP4 Fellow
I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is Christina Tudor and I’m the Civic Engagement intern at Young People For (YP4) this summer and current member of the 2015-2016 fellowship class. My main goal for the summer is to start up YP4’s blog team. Blogs are a great platform for writers to connect with one another, share opinions, and elevate important causes. I’ve been blogging for about six months now and it has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I started college nearly two years ago and decided to major in writing with the idea that I wanted to grow up to “write stuff.” Like most eighteen year olds, I had no idea what I was doing. I started getting involved in many important causes. I advocated for reproductive justice, spoke with legislators about the Women’s Equality Agenda, and held education events on Title IX. I’ll let you in on a little secret, while I was doing all these things, I tried to start a blog. But I was too afraid to put my thoughts online. Then, a friend who worked my college’s newspaper asked me to write for their blog. She said she noticed all the work I did on campus and asked me to blog about activism.
I said yes and my first blog post was up the next day.
Being asked to blog for someone else was just the push needed to start writing and posting about important social issues and activism. Many opportunities have emerged out of my original decision to start blogging. I now have direction in my writing; I now have a voice in the movements I really care about. I am so incredibly excited to launch this Blog Team and maybe give others the same push that I needed to start blogging.
Some Quick Benefits of Blogging:
Even if you were never one who kept a journal or write your thoughts down, writing about events in your life, projects you’re working on, and social justice causes is a great outlet to process how you feel and spread the word about something you care about. As an activist, it is also a great method of self-care to process through the movement you’re working in and educate others.
The reactions that friends, family, and others have to something you write may surprise you. Although you should write for yourself and not just so people will see it, it is very rewarding when someone approaches you to say they relate to what you wrote, or that they never thought about something before.
Being able to have published writing samples online will help you a great deal professionally. In fact, the whole reason why I have this internship is because a journalism professor suggested it to me after he found my blog. When your work is visible, people might reach out to you about it and it is a great way to showcase your writing capabilities, who you are as a person, and what you care about.
As I mentioned, I was worked on a ton of social justice related projects before I started blogging and one of the best parts about blogging is that it gave me a space to share my thoughts and uplift important issues. Many important causes are (unfortunately) not always discussed in mainstream places like the classroom or workplace. A blog is a space that’s yours and you should use it write honestly and engage in necessary conversations that aren’t had in other places.
It may sound cheesy, but blogging is an opportunity for personal development on many levels. I came to blogging with a strong writing abilities but that is not a necessity. If I were to scroll back through all my old posts, I notice that they get progressively better and I’m more comfortable with each post. Throughout this yearlong project, you will grow as a writer as well as become more confident tackling tough topics and sharing your activism with others.
If you think you’re passionate and that you have some important insights to share with the world, fill out the blog team application here. Even if you’re scared or unsure of yourself, apply. It just might pay off.
All the best,
Civic Engagement Intern-Young People For (YP4)