Hella Bus Blog
I sat down on Friday with Andy Nicholas and Kim Justice from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, to talk about just how swagged out the life of a policy analyst really is. We discuss capital gains taxation and chicken bedding, whatever that is.
What is your take on what the Budget and Policy Center does?
Andy: Broadly, what we do is we look at the budget, which is fundamentally all about values and priorities in Washington state. We look at how we're prioritizing low and moderate income families, and our analysis is basically all about that. What are we doing to make the investments that we think we need to make to build a prosperous state for everybody?
Kim: We sort of distill what the state invests in into four value areas—values that we think are shared by everyone. So it's education and opportunity, helping the environment, economic security, which is like helping people meet their basic needs, and then thriving communities, which is like our parks, and public safety. So the budget and what state government does can be be big and complex, but when you really think about it, those are the four value areas that the state spends its money on.
So much more after the jump!
Art has always been the Washington Bus's number one priority. Really, voter engagement is just a pretext for us to perfect the fine art of Votebot construction. Okay, maybe not, but we still love it. That's why, when we heard that youth organizer and erstwhile social philosopher Dan Mahle was hosting an event called Spark in the Park with his organization the Art Affect, Hella Bus figured we'd better snag an interview to find out what all the hullaballoo was about. We sat down in Volunteer Park with Mahle while everybody was still milling about outside SAAM trying to find the location.
Hella Bus: Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Dan Mahle: I moved out to Seattle two years ago, from Colorado, to serve as an Americorps member with the YMCA Service Corps. I did that for a year, and that's Metrocenter YMCA downtown, so I made a lot of connections there. I ended up applying for a grant through the Department of Neighborhoods--Neighborhood Matching Fund?--to launch Art for Justice, which was a project run by a bunch of high school students that I helped coordinate, to put on two big citywide art showcases at Vera Project in the Spring of 2010. Once that was over, and once my term was over with Americorps, I was like, wait a minute! This is really cool! I want to keep doing this. So I decided to work with a couple other people to launch the Art Affect, about a year ago, and I've been working on that, while trying to hold various jobs to get a paycheck.
Would you tell us a little more about this event, and why we're all gathered here today?
So the Art Affect, over the last year we've been doing weekly events and putting on collaborative art showcases in the community, so we hosted an event with the King County Youth Summit, and one with Green Festival, and we've had a bunch of different little partnerships like that. So this is something new for us, basically we decided we wanted to focus a bit more on bringing amazing people together, and seeing what happens. There are so many people doing amazing work who don't know about each other, and once they do, all of a sudden, huge things open up, huge opportunities happen. And I guess that's my biggest passion personally right now too, to be a connector, to be a person who--
Here, Dan's phone rings, and he helps people find where we are.
Wow, you're very popular.
No, nobody has any idea where the hell they're going.
What is the Art Affect, and what was the process of creating it like?
The Art Affect was inspired by Art for Justice, and Art for Justice was all about utilizing creative expression as a vehicle for social change. So, how could we use our art, and our political message through art, to affect people's thinking, and to ultimately change the community in positive ways? And with this new project, the Art Affect, we're also looking at youth leadership, and how we can connect the art component with the community, the real, sustainable, community component. So that people show up on a weekly basis and it becomes a tight-knit, supportive place, where young people feel validated in their artistic expression, and therefore their authentic selves.
We've been running programming since September of last year, and I volunteered for about 700 hours to launch it, and two other people volunteered about 700, 800 hours between the two of them, as well, so there were three of us that were co-coordinating. We wrote some grants, and we raised over $13,000 this spring, so that's what's been sustaining us so far.
You mentioned Art for Justice, and trying to create social change through creative expression, but that's pretty abstract. Can you give one or two examples of your favorite things you did with that program?
With Art for Justice, one of the coolest moments was when some folks, I think from Youngstown records, got together, and they actually wrote a song the day of the event, collaboratively. Completely out of the blue, they wrote this song. And they performed it, live, and it was a huge highlight of the show. So one of the coolest things is seeing people create new works of art, inspired by that space.
Would you say that you consider your work with the Art Affect political? Feel free to interpret that word however you will.
I think it's definitely political, because we're talking about social justice, we're talking about environmental justice, sustainability, anti-oppression work, we're talking about art as a tool for an activism. And these are things that are based on this sort of unspoken feeling that our world is changing very quickly. And we need our generation to step up to the plate, and really engage some of the world's problems that people are putting off right now. It's our generation's responsibility to really model the type of community that we want to live in, and to make that happen step by step. So that's why it's political. Because young people in this day and age gotta be political.
Do you view Art Affect as being part of a larger movement?
Absolutely, 100%. That's what I'm trying to figure out here, is, how can we all view ourselves as part of a larger movement, like a human movement, a movement that stands for a thriving, just, and sustainable world? Where people use creative expression as a way to really understand who they are, what they have to offer, and then connect with all kinds of other people all across all different sectors of the economy, and say, hey! We're all kind of looking at this one general picture of the future that we want. We all want a place that's more socially just, a more sustainable place, where our children can actually survive into the future instead of facing irreparable climate damage.
I think that movement could take many different forms, there are a lot of organizations that kind of lead that movement. One is 350.org, they do a lot of the environmental stuff, another one is Generation Waking Up, which is kind of just emerging now, they do a lot of cool work with young people. And then, you know, it's just a very overarching movement that everybody feels, but hasn't really connected yet. When I talk to any young people, they all sort of tell me the same future. They're going to have this more sustainable way of life, they're going to be closer to the earth, they're going to be in communities instead of alone. There are so many different things that you hear when you talk to young people, and they all connect. And we're just working to hasten that world in a positive way.
Reel Grrls supports the empowerment of hundreds of young women through media-based training, resources, and community building (check out our Hella Bus profile on Reel Grrls here). They do good stuff. They are also nice people. That's why we were a wee bit concerned to hear the news that Comcast threatened to cut $18,000 in funding for their summer film camp for teens because of a tweet (which was on point, by the way).
The tweet referred to former FCC commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker's spectacularly shady departure from the FCC to take a high-powered job at Comcast just months after approving the controversial Comcast-NBC merger. Free Press and other media watchdog organizations have been calling for an investigation into what seems to be a pretty blatant conflict of interest. Although, it seems to have been pretty much legal.
In the wake of a media-blitzing, the higher-ups at Comcast are claiming that the threat to defund the program was the work of a rogue employee and that Comcast will restore funding. “This is not the way Comcast behaves toward its nonprofit partners,” said Comcast Spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice.
However, should Comcast follow through with their threat, three Reel Grrls participants "who had signed up for the camp are planning to come in voluntarily to create a film about Comcast’s decision to pull their funding," noted the Washington Post.
If you aren't familiar with them already, please check out Reel Grrls and the excellent programs they have to offer! Seriously, they're great.
Young people who saw a problem in their community and then found a creative way to fix it? They make the Bus’s heart go pitter-patter.
So our heart was out of control when we stopped by Our American Generation’s monthly get-together at the Arabica Lounge, celebrating another month of engaging youth online to research and discuss solutions to the most challenging problems our communities face.
OAG’s free zines bring fresh viewpoints on issues such as crime, poverty, and the environment into the public eye. Between zine releases, they keep the conversation going on their blog, The Takeover (link here!). The Bus tracked down OAG executive board members/superheroes Sam Withers and Jane Kim to discuss the importance of online engagement and the innovative projects that will be coming soon to a blog near you.
Here’s what they had to say about their organization:
What is OAG?
Sam: “OAG is all about engaging youth in our community to look critically at social justice problems in the U.S. We want to facilitate in-depth research into the problems, and then help formulate policy solutions or ideas about alternatives to the system we’ve got going on right now. It’s about engaging all the youth in our communities... to have them look deeply now at all the social justice issues, so in the future we can take over in a really responsible and well-informed way."
“Out of that, we pump out a lot of research publications – zines. And then we also have a blog that’s engaging various people in the community. People have the opportunity to write about whatever they care about and have the rest of their community weigh in with their thoughts, so they can see where our generation stands on a wide variety of problems.”
What makes OAG great?
Jane: “OAG is successful at getting people who aren’t necessarily interested in politics together to talk about current events… Like, when I was in high school, I didn't read the news. I just felt like there was so much that I would have to know, that I would never understand it. I think the unique part of our research reports is that we try to speak in a common language, so that it doesn’t feel like homework to read these, and to learn a little more about what’s happening in our country.”
How did OAG get started?
Sam: “For a while we were talking about the organization before it started becoming real, having conversations with a bunch of people in our community, just trying to figure out what it would look like…Then we made an RSO, a registered student organization on the UW campus. That’s the first time that we had officially declared ourselves an organization. That was spring of 2009… Then we came up with the board – that basically became the body. That body formed the non-profit that came out of it.”
What’s your favorite thing you’ve done with OAG?
Jane: “There are so many, it’s really hard to say! Well, right now, I’m working on a project for OAG where I get 100 people I know to say their favorite thing about America and their least favorite thing about America. I want to put it on our website as 100 pictures where you can scroll over their faces and see [their answers]. Just doing a few interviews so far, I’ve seen a lot of unique insights that don’t really get addressed in the conventional media.”
What would a win for OAG look like?
Sam: “I think we’re on our way by getting more and more young people involved. We're here to combat the trend of disassociation, when you’re unsatisfied with the way the U.S. government is going right now, or with the culture of politics… Just by getting more and more people to look at social injustice and come up with possible solutions now, the more people that step in and work with that process, the better off we’ll be… We’re all part of this movement of realizing what’s at stake in the future and how much it depends on the young people today.”
Jane: “I think we’re winning right now! An end goal is to get people involved who say, 'Well, I can’t get involved because politics is decided by people who have white hair or are bald, or are the typical white male.' That can seem so distanced from us. We want to get people to realize that little things like blogging or voting or even just a conversation can change what our country does internationally and domestically.”
Written by Genna Watson and Will Canine
"Food connects everybody. If you have an issue with someone’s gender, someone’s sexual orientation, someone’s religion – it doesn’t matter – y’all eat."
- Cristina Orbe
Eating. We love it. And when great, healthy, and sustainable food meets great young people? Wowza. That's why when we heard about FEEST (the Food Education Empowerment and Sustainability Team), we hopped on the first bus around (our own, of course) and raced over to get a taste. This latest installment of our ongoing youth-focused series Who Do You Love? looks at the epically delicious foods, youth empowerment, and community development that FEEST cooks up on a weekly basis.
FEEST is a youth-run organization/collection of culinary geniuses housed in the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center that builds community by gathering once a week to prepare and devour a delicious meal made with ingredients from their own organic garden. The group also trains youth to educate their communities about making healthy and sustainable food choices.
Mariana and FEEST's fearsome collection of chickens
First, the Bus toured the FEEST garden and talked to superstar gardening intern Mariana Morales, who showed us some freshly planted onions and beans. “I think that more people should have their own organic gardens instead of buying other things,” Mariana says. “It’s hard to have a garden, but there are just so many benefits.” She often takes home the skills that she learns at FEEST. “At home, I tell my mom, “Here’s this new recipe I learned, you should try it out!” Mariana has also started a garden at her own school clueing her fellow students in to the world of sustainable agriculture. She hopes it will someday become a part of the school’s biology curriculum.
After the garden tour, we sat down with Cristina Orbe to discuss FEEST and the ways its programs put food, education, and empowerment around one communal table.
What is FEEST?
“Here, [youth] learn not only to cook food, but to be in the community and have a positive environment where their voice is really important, where their ideas are really important, and where they can see the power of their ideas turn from “I really want to cook some potatoes” into this amazing dish that satisfies a group of people.”
“The other element [of our program] is a youth leadership team where we hire eight interns in four different areas – journalism, event-planning, gardening, and kitchen. Those youth go through a training program where we build them into young leaders that do stuff like advocate for different issues that they think are important in the community... They promote FEEST to their friends through outreach, they plan a summit, they do projects like taking what they’ve learned and sharing it with a pocket of the community they think could use the information.”
How else do you interact with the larger community?
“In this past year our youth were asked by the Delridge District Council to come ask questions of the Mayor at the Town Hall. We brought them together and just started talking about what issues are facing the community and what it looked like the Mayor had on the table… They asked the Mayor questions and he was so impressed that he invited them to his office for further discussion. In that discussion they tackled school food, and they had him explain more in depth what his levy was, and also said “You need youth on a panel for oversight and creation of those levies. Because we’re the ones experiencing it, and we need to be heard!””
FEESTers cooking up a storm
How does food relate to empowerment and sustainability?
“Food connects everybody. If you have an issue with someone’s gender, someone’s sexual orientation, someone’s religion – it doesn’t matter – y’all eat. So it's incredible how food can be a binding thing, how people so different from each other can connect over food… I believe that food should be a part of all movements that you want to last, because it's the one thing that will keep people together – breaking bread together. Tribes are built on that idea, cultures are built on that idea. The Bus can steal that idea!” [laughter]
“Empowerment is key for people to be able to recognize the places that power is pushing on them, so they can go, “Who am I in this, and who else do I want to be?” It's about being able to look at each other and walk with people hand in hand toward what you want the future to look like. And it could look like more of the same, but you have to protect that. Or it could look like the next level of what they want to achieve.”
“I think that building strong communities is key to sustainability. One of the ways that we try to do that here is we grow food in the garden, we cook that same food, we compost that food, and then we use that compost. We have a circle here. I think true sustainability is not looking at each other in competitive ways and instead looking at the ways we can have mutually beneficial relationships with each other.”
What movements do you consider FEEST a part of?
“I think we’re a part of the healthy food movement. I think we’re also past of the urban farming movement, and the youth empowerment movement... Though not overtly, I feel like we’re also an anti-racist and social justice kind of group… We don't appear at protests, but we have Muslim and LGBTQ and Jehovah’s Witness kids all in one room, all getting along with each other.
What are you working on right now?
“This year we’re working with YMI, Southwest Youth and Family Services, and Highpoint Community Center, collaborating to form a youth summit. The youth summit is totally planned by youth... The whole point of us having this workshop is to get youth to feel empowered to critically think about what’s occurring on in their community, and come up with creative solutions in a community environment, and to look at policies – to begin to get a youth voice together, and to put a spotlight on the type of youth engagement we do in this community… Adults are facilitators, but youth are the minds and the hands.”
For more info and how to get involved with FEEST, contact Cristina Orbe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That right there was our third installment of our new series, Who do you love? (find the first two here and here) A lay-o'-the-land of sorts of some of the most active, innovative, and inspiring young people in the state. This is a chance to highlight amazing work, give credit where credit is due, and begin to evaluate the state of youth-engagement in Washington and where it can go in the years to come. Know a great group that deserves a spotlight? Send ideas to alex [at] washingtonbus [dot] org.
Here’s one thing we love: solidarity. Nothing is more beautiful - and sometimes hilarious - than young people standing together to make the world a better place. Often cited as the attribute that gave labor unions the power to take on big companies and make weekends and overtime pay the reality they are today, solidarity is the state of supportive exuberance seen in Egypt and Wisconsin, of understanding that ignores divisions and focuses on a common struggle in the face of adversity. In our second installment of Who Do You Love? the Bus had a chance to see just such solidarity in action...
The U.W. chapter of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is among the most vibrant chapters of one of the largest national, student run organizations in the country—and the only student run student-labor solidarity movement in the US. Standing with workers making athletic apparel for the University, UW USAS has helped improve the conditions for workers from Latin America to South-East Asia to right here in Washington State.
With our curiosity thoroughly piqued, the Washington Bus sat down with student-organizers-extraordinaire Garrett Shishido Strain and Allie Padgett in a small, back alley coffee shop in the U-District to discuss their organization’s victories, strategies, and plans for the future.
Washington Bus: What is UW USAS?
Garrett: We run strategic labor solidarity campaigns. …Collegiate institutions have always been at the forefront of social change, whether it’s the anti-apartheid movement or the civil rights movement… We’re thinking the same way about the global economy.
Washington Bus: So we did a quick Google search for “Seattle” and “sweatshop,” and the only thing that came up (ironically?) was American Apparel. Why Sweatshops in Seattle?
Allie: We define sweatshop really broadly so we really just define it as any corporation where workers are being abuses or mistreated or oppressed because of the conditions of the global economy.
Garrett: The defining characteristics of a sweatshop—poor working conditions, poverty wages, a lack of benefits, etc.—these are things that are not only characteristic of sweatshops in the third world, but also working conditions on our campuses, right here. …USAS is about struggling against sweatshops wherever they may be.
The Washington Bus: Could you tell us about one of your big victories?
Allie: After a lot of hard fought battles, there is a new line of sweatshop-free clothing apparel, Alta Gracia—it is the first union made collegiate apparel ever. It’s made in the Dominican Republic, and the workers there get living wages, healthcare benefits, have a very strong union—its really a big victory for the whole apparel industry.
Garrett: It was basically all USAS that was responsible for Alta Gracia existing—Knights Apparel wanted to have a brand that met students standards. They caught wind of USAS’ campaign in solidarity with workers in the Dominican Republic and decided to form a partnership to open a factory that is meant to be the first collegiate apparel factory where workers have union representation.
Washington Bus: what is USAS doing right now?
Allie: So, there’s this corporation called Sodexo, and they are the twenty-second largest company in the world—yeah, they’re HUGE—and there is currently a national campaign going on to kick them out of universities across the country. They have been cited with numerous workers rights violations, human rights violations—things like poverty wages, lack of healthcare benefits, racial discrimination, and steeling from public universities. And so we are trying to use our power as students to make the company change their business practices.
Washington Bus: How do you bring together so many people to do such big things?
Garrett: We do “big tent” organizing, which essentially means that USAS isn’t about going out and being like ‘you look like your radical! Come join our group!’ Its about taking people from a place of political apathy or fear or just an unwillingness to participate. In that sense we’re all about politicizing the student body and bringing people into the student-labor solidarity movement who would never have been there before.
Allie: It’s about finding out what the person you’re talking to is interested in and seeing how that relates to the work that we’re doing, and not just assuming why you know they should be interested. Labor is so connected to everything we do that if you just sit down and have a conversation with someone, you’ll find some common ground.
To us, USAS offers a new inkling of how solidarity can look and feel. Defining and discussing the “common ground” that connects laborers across the world, students to a factory thousands of miles away, or protesters in Cairo and Madison seems to be one of the most basic tasks of a progressive movement. And we are proud that USAS—an organization run by and of young people—is leading the way. Want to learn more? Check out there website and get involved!
That right there was our second installment of our new series, Who do you love? (find the first one here) A lay-o'-the-land of sorts of some of the most active, innovative, and inspiring young people in the state. This is a chance to highlight amazing work, give credit where credit is due, and begin to evaluate the state of youth-engagement in Washington and where it can go in the years to come. Know a great group that deserves a spotlight? Send ideas to alex [at] washingtonbus [dot] org.
On this valentines day of reflection, the Bus is asking the grand question, "Who Do You Love?" Besides you (although definitely you), we've decided its time to show some love to some of our favorite young activists in the state. In this first installment of the who do you love series, we check in with the one, the only: Reel Grrls.
Two Reel Grrls champs conscripted into standing in front of a Bus poster
Why do we love Reel Grrls? Well, let's be real. Access to media is a huge part of everyday life, bigger all the time. And the major media forms remain largely male-run and dominated. The more opportunities for young women to have their voice heard and build their media skill set, the richer cultural dialogue we'll have.
Reel Grrls is one of the best in the business at giving young women the tools to tell their own stories, and have their voice heard. They offer after-school programs that provide the training, community, and equipment to make stunning films on the issues they care about.
But the goodness doesn't stop there, the skills and confidence that come with creating these elaborate media projects last far beyond the program itself. As Reel Grrls Program Manager, Maile Martinez, points out, "the skills that the participants build here are hopefully going to help them have better outcomes in school and life in general.”
Amidst a bevy of computers named after great female directors, the Bus sat down with Maile, and Julia Levy, a Reel Grrls intern/participant/superstar, to discuss their organization, the power of youth media, and the future of feminism.
The Washington Bus: What cause is Reel Grrls designed to promote?
Maile: “We want to create a world where women’s voices are being heard… Our core mission is about creating a space where someone like Julia can come in and learn and grow and try things and leave feeling like she can go out in the world and do what she wants. But ancillary to that, we’re really cognizant of the fact that there are so few women doing things like winning Academy Awards for directing films, or getting their films made, or getting their films financed, or producing work that’s mainstream and a part of the cultural dialogue. So we’re still raising awareness about that, because people are often really surprised. We’re training a new generation of women who can go out and enter the media landscape with confidence and get their stories out there too. ”
Bus: Do you view your work as political?
M: “[Our work] is definitely from a different viewpoint than most media is – it’s done by teenage girls, rather than 40-year-old men, which makes a huge difference… Every film that’s ever made at Reel Grrls, the topic comes from [the girls]. We’re never like: ‘Okay everyone, we’re going to make a political video now!’ When we say, ‘What do you care about? What do you have to say?’, politics is where they go. I think that makes a lot of sense because we are political beings in general, but also I think they take it seriously when we’re like, ‘We’re giving you these skills and we want you to have a voice,’ so they’re like, ‘Guess I better say something important.’
Julia: “Being an 18 year old girl, there’s nothing that I watch on television that’s made by an 18 year old girl, or anything that really addresses the things that I actually think about and deal with… At Reel Grrls, the films we make are by the people they’re for, which is a good thing because you don’t get talked down to."
M: “We have certain politics in our organization too… Our politics are definitely feminist, and we get invested in media justice issues, and we’re invested in having access to open internet. There are definitely some more traditional political issues that we’ll weigh in on… We talk about things like, ‘Well, these are the things you’re seeing on TV – who’s profiting from that?"
Bus: What happened to Fake Grrls?
Bus: Given that political edge, is Reel Grrls part of a larger movement?
M: “I feel like we’re becoming an important voice – feminism for the new millennium. I think that people who care about women’s issues are looking toward young women and young people and saying that they need to be a part of the conversation.”
J: “I think we’re saying: Love yourself, love what you do, be comfortable with yourself, and know that you have a voice. You can do whatever you want to do.”
That right there was our first installment of our new series, Who do you love? A lay-o'-the-land of sorts of some of the most active, innovative, and inspiring young people in the state. This is a chance to highlight amazing work, give credit where credit is due, and begin to evaluate the state of youth-engagement in Washington and where it can go in the years to come. Know a great group that deserves a spotlight? Send ideas to alex [at] washingtonbus [dot] org.