Young people for

The Fight for Immigration Reform is a Fight for Human Rights

The following is a guest post by Italia S. Aranda, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.

Last year, people all over the United States spoke out like never before on why we need to fix this country’s broken immigration system. Undocumented mothers participated in acts of civil disobedience that led to their arrests, immigrant youth organized their communities with more energy than ever, and  organizations all around the country joined forces to put pressure on Congress to reach a sensible solution. 2013 became the year when many families fought as one. We realized that what makes this movement different is not the fear, uncertainty, or struggles we face every single day as undocumented immigrants, but rather the strength, determination, and willingness that is born in our hearts.

As an undocumented immigrant who benefited from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, or DACA, I am often asked why last year I fought harder than ever for comprehensive immigration reform. A world of possibilities opened up after being granted deferred action.Because of DACA, I now have a social security number and a two-year work permit. Not only am I now able to pursue my dream of going to medical school, but I’m now also able to travel safely around the country and go to bed each night knowing that for the next two years, the possibility of my deportation has drastically decreased.

But this is not the case for my parents, who don’t qualify for deferred action. DACA was meant to help DREAMers who have waited all of their lives to be able to give back to this country by earning degrees and joining the workforce.  But immigration reform is not just about DREAMers. It is about remembering that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and entire families have always contributed to this country’s growth and success, regardless of immigration status or college degree.

I continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform because my parents gave up some of their dreams so I could follow mine. My parents had me when they were only teenagers.  They did not have the opportunity to finish high school, and although they wanted to go to college with all of their hearts, they suddenly had a family to sustain. So they began working – my mom as a seamstress, and my dad in any and all jobs he could get. But it was never enough, and when Mexico’s economy began to worsen they knew that they would never be able to afford an education for my brother and me in our home country. They saw education as a way out of poverty, as a way to end the cycle of monumental struggles that had affected our family for generations. But no one ever wakes up in the morning wanting to leave everything behind – your relatives, your friends, and everything you own – to become an undocumented immigrant.

For many immigrant families, uncertainty rules your life. This last holiday season alone, thousands of families had empty seats around the table. In some cases, their mom had been deported.  In others, their dad was spending weeks, months, or even years in a detention facility. No one should have to go through that kind of pain.

The fight for comprehensive immigration reform is about more than a piece of legislation. It is a fight for human dignity and human rights. I continue to fight alongside millions of others so that our families no longer have to live through the uncertainty, the fear, and the injustice. I fight so my parents can one day follow their own dreams, so they can one day feel like human beings again.

PFAW Foundation

Highlights of PFAW Foundation’s National Summit for Youth

Last week, Young People For (YP4) – a youth leadership program of PFAW Foundation – celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by concluding its ninth annual National Summit for young progressive leaders. Over the span of four days, more than 130 YP4 Fellows went through extensive trainings, preparing them both for the community projects they will be leading this year and for life-long careers in the progressive movement.

From workshops on fundraising, communications, and coalition building to keynotes from civil rights leaders Phillip Agnew, Sofia Campos, and Lt. Dan Choi, Fellows left the Summit with the motivation and skills necessary to implement progressive change across the country. Many are already launching into projects to enroll peers in affordable health care, register young adults to vote, create leadership development programs for youth in their own communities, and more.



Concurrent with the National Summit, YP4 also celebrated the completion of its seventh annual Front Line Leaders Academy, a six month program providing those interested in greater civic participation the ability to learn from successful political campaign professionals. Nineteen Fellows received accreditation on a wide range of political skills – from designing a field campaign to effective public speaking – that they learned over the course of the program.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW and Allies Rally for Democracy at the Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics.  From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:

Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask.  We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.

Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.  Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:

As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.

Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:

What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country.  And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.

One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action.  Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:

We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.

Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans.  Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.

And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.

PFAW

John Lewis and a new generation of movement leaders

"And I say to all the young people, you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us . . . I'm not tired. I'm not weary. I'm not prepared to sit down and give up. I am ready to fight and continue to fight. And you must fight."
PFAW Foundation

50 Years Later, John Lewis Returns to Podium as Sole Surviving March Speaker

Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.

On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.

Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.

A half century ago he was the torchbearer for youth leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. The message he delivered still hits home for youth leaders like those of Young People For.

Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.

In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.

Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.

PFAW Foundation

Young People For Supports Florida Dream Defenders’ Courageous Sit-In

In what the Miami Herald is calling the “longest sit-in demonstration in recent memory,” a group of more than sixty young people called the Dream Defenders came to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office last Tuesday and have not left. 

Arriving at the Florida Capitol just a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the group is pushing for a special legislative session to take up a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act which would repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law and address racial profiling, the school-to prison pipeline, and more. Among the many young people in Gov. Scott’s office is Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, a 2005 graduate of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) leadership development program, as well as eight to ten other current or former YP4 Fellows. 

Agnew told the Miami Herald that the work is broader than their specific demands: 

“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”

PFAW Foundation has been helping support the courageous young people at the Capitol in any way we can, from providing administrative and financial support – including meals – to sending video cameras to help document their experiences.  Young People For Director Joy Lawson highlighted the sit-in in a Huffington Post op-ed and is leading a powerful photo campaign collecting statements of support for the Dream Defenders. 

Together, we are showing the Dream Defenders, and the country, that young people are standing with them in this fight.
 

PFAW Foundation

Student Debt Day 2013 Makes Noise for Struggling Students and Families

On June 5th, hundreds of students made their way to Capitol Hill to express their concerns and tell their personal stories about rising student debt. We wanted to bring attention to the federal student loan interest rate that is set to expire on July 1st.  After meeting with and leaving information for over 120 Senate and House members, student advocates from affiliate Young People For, Campus Progress, and other youth organizations hope to have left an impact on the senators considering various plans to address the impending increase. 

Students roaming the halls of the Senate and House offices were passionate and excited about their movement.  In meetings with offices including Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA), students were encouraged to continue making noise about this issue, as public attention is a key factor in forcing a bipartisan solution.  We were told that the public attention brought to the issue by President Obama’s campaign and 2012 State of the Union address was a key factor in passing the one year freeze that was enacted last summer.  Although the president spoke to a group of students on Friday about the interest rates, the public attention to the matter is smaller than it was last year. 

But student debt remains a pressing issue.  The average college student graduates with roughly $26,000 in student debt, and doubling the interest rate would result in what the president referred to as a $1,000 tax hike each year for students.  Over the course of four years, that’s $4,000 in addition to the initial loan amount.  That is $4,000 that is not going towards stimulating the economy, preventing graduates from buying cars and houses, and forcing them to put off big decisions like moving out of their parents’ houses and starting families and lives of their own.  This is something each student on the Hill echoed regardless of the degree to which they are personally affected by the student loan deficit.  As the roughly 7 million students with student debt contemplate how they will face the reality of their futures, they are turning around and telling future generations something we were never told:  It is not worth it.  If you are incurring debt in your undergrad years, going to graduate school might be even further out of the question.  As one student shared yesterday, “Masters degrees have become the new bachelors.”  When students cannot afford the education needed to be hired for the jobs available, the effects are felt across the nation. We now have less than one month to ensure that students are not incurring even more unnecessary debt that does nothing for our economy but hold us back.

Kelly Mears
Intern for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program

PFAW

One Death Is Too Many: Why We Need Gun Violence Prevention Reforms

By Jamira Burley

Alumna, PFAW Foundation's Young People For Program

Eight years ago, in 2005, I was just a normal high school student. I faced my share of adversity, but nothing I thought I couldn't handle -- even after the repeat incarcerations of both my parents and all 10 of my older brothers. That is, until I received a phone call that changed not only the way I viewed the world, but also my place within it.

My 20-year-old brother Andre was shot and killed one month before his 21st birthday. His death devastated my family and still continues to hold a dark shadow over our lives today.

What continues to surprise and sadden me to this day is the fact that my brother isn't the first or the last. Why? Every single day in America, news stories flash snapshots of lives that once were. Years of a young person's life are funneled down to less than two paragraphs in the back pages of a newspaper. Burial plots are assigned and soon the names are forgotten in the media. Those lives are only remembered by the ones that loved them most and the heavy tombstone, bearing witness to the lives they once lived.

Stories like these are happening every single day in America, where young people are dying before they are even old enough to vote; where the price of leaving your home may mean death.

We lose more Americans to violence on our own city streets than on the battlegrounds of war. We have made kid soldiers out of our youth, criminals out of the disadvantaged, and funeral attendees out of us all.

Guns are becoming more accessible than textbooks and supermarkets. Yet we continue to serve them up to the unfit and unqualified, which is resulting in mass murders and mass shootings.

This begs the question: what can and must be done?

Young people, especially black men and boys, are being killed in our classrooms and city streets. The selling of fire arms to criminals is placing our family members, neighbors, classmates and coworkers at risk. In some states anyone can walk in to a gun show without an ID and purchase a firearm. That means a criminal or an unfit person could have access to a gun with 10 rounds or 100.

In addition to closing the private sale loophole, the following measures must be put in place if we want to stop one more person from falling victim to a bullet:

• Fix the gun check system in a way that will allow enforcement agencies to upload and share current and accurate information.
• Require ID and background checks for all gun purchases.
• Make gun trafficking a federal crime.
• Create common-sense laws that address what type of guns should be in the hands of average Americans.
• Address the high rate of crime in urban communities.
• Increase positive mental health accessibility without stigmatizing those who need and want it.
• Recognize that in urban communities, violence is related to a lack of economic opportunities and a hopelessness mentality among youth that needs to be addressed.

No one is saying that guns have to be eliminated, but like most other potentially dangerous things in America, restrictions need to be put in place for the sake of safety. Many of us agree that background checks and ID requirements are needed, and Americans are united in the belief that support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

My brother Andre and many others have been killed because of the lack of safeguards in place to protect their fundamental right to live. As an alumna of Young People For and a member of the Roosevelt Institution Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, both programs that empower young leaders to create lasting change in our communities, I know that inaction is not the answer. We can no longer sit on the side lines and allow gun lobbyists to place band aids on gunshot wounds. We need and must demand common-sense gun violence prevention measures.

The probability of another death increases every second we hesitate.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW Foundation

PFAWF’s Young People For Program Welcomes More Than 115 Student Leaders at Annual Summit

This weekend People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program held its 2013 National Summit in Washington, DC.  Attended by 117 young leaders from 64 different universities, this year’s Summit – “Creating Change that Lasts” – was a smashing success. 

Student leaders attended workshops on topics ranging from budgeting to media outreach to succession planning. In addition to the 2013 student leaders, nearly fifty alumni from past years returned to support the weekend’s events.  Presidential Medal of Freedom award recipient Dolores Huerta, women's rights advocate Sandra Fluke, and associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Ronnie Cho all joined as guest speakers.
 

PFAW Foundation

Young People For Got Out the Youth Vote This November

People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program was on the ground all across the country these past few months helping young people get out the vote. These efforts paid off: one in two Americans ages 18-29 voted this Election Day, making up 19 percent of the total electorate – an increase from 2008.

Here is a great video telling the story of how this outreach work happened:

This work was centered around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, which encouraged youth, people of color, women, seniors and persons with disabilities to become active participants in the electoral process. ARRIVE WITH 5 asked voters to not only pledge to vote on Election Day, but to list five people they were committed to bringing to the polls with them:

All in all, YP4 helped campus organizers mobilize over 22,000 voters and collected 10,000 voting pledges through the ARRIVE WITH FIVE campaign.

 

PFAW Foundation

PFAWF Supports Young People, Communities of Color in Getting Out the Vote This Election Day

Whether by reaching out to people of color, young people, women, or other key communities, People For the American Way Foundation has been on the ground all across the country these past few weeks getting out the vote.

The VESSELS project of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, which is committed to increasing civic participation in communities that have traditionally experienced disenfranchisement and discrimination, has organized GOTV events in more than thirty cities across the country. From Buffalo to Miami, Las Vegas to Baltimore, and many places in between, VESSELS have been organizing in their communities to get people to the polls. Ms. Ruby Bridges spoke at a rally in New Orleans, while Dr. Ralph Abernathy III took the stage in Cleveland. In other towns, volunteers have organized trips to the polls following Sunday worship services and GOTV concerts.

Youth organizers have also been working hard to turn out the vote. Despite the fact that nearly 85% of young people were not reached out to by either campaign, we know from our Young People For (YP4) Fellows that young people are busy organizing. They are centering their efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, because while every vote is powerful, they know that when they ARRIVE WITH 5 (or more!) friends to polls, the impact of the youth vote is magnified. At Pitzer College in California, YP4 Fellows are organizing an ARRIVE WITH 5 caravan to the polls – providing electric go-cart rides from their campus to the polling station. At Oberlin College in Ohio, student leaders are hosting voter information events, phone banks, and dorm storms. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they sang to get out the vote. Local bands and a cappella groups performed everything from jazz to techno while attendees got excited about making their voices heard on Election Day. And these are just a few of the events YP4 Fellows organized this year, collectively reaching thousands of students across the nation.

People For the American Way Foundation was founded more than three decades ago with a vision of a vibrantly diverse democratic society in which all Americans are encouraged to participate in our nation’s civic and political life. The hard work of PFAWF’s Fellows, VESSELS, and other volunteers this election cycle have helped bring that vision to life in a very real way.

PFAW Foundation

Young People For Amplifies Youth Voices

Leading up to the election, PFAW Foundation’s Young People For has been active in mobilizing young voters and ensuring that youth voices are heard and amplified. The Young People For fellows are devoting long hours to planning effective community outreach for engaging other young voters and rallying their peers to go to the polls. Take a look at our video showcasing the dedicated work of our fellows, who continue to advocate for civic engagement and encourage vital participation in the electoral process.
  

PFAW

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

YP4 Featured Fellow: Elena Swartz

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing. We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here.

This week, we’re pleased to introduce Elena Swartz, representing Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

Recognizing the importance strong voter turnout in order to foster positive change in her community, Elena chose to organize a Civic Empowerment Summit at Bryn Mawr as her Blueprint for Social Justice. The summit provided information on how students can be a voice for change through vote work on campus and in their community, and was strategically planned in the spring to help students plan their voter engagement work ahead of the upcoming fall elections. During the training, Elena shared strategies for effective campus and community outreach, volunteer recruitment, data management, voter registration and more. Elena’s project is so important because the right to vote is constantly under attack by those who want to disenfranchise certain groups of voters for political gain, such as students.

Across the country, states are implementing Voter ID laws that exclude student ID’s from the list of acceptable forms of identification, imposing strict residency requirements to register to vote and some are even requiring college students to travel to their home precincts to vote instead of casting a ballot near their campuses. By organizing and educating her fellow students, Elena is helping to empower young people to take a stand against these measures and strengthen our fundamental rights.

PFAW Foundation

YP4 Featured Fellow: Ariel Boone

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing.

We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This week, we’re pleased to introduce Ariel Boone, representing the University of California at Berkeley.

Originally from Davis, CA, Ariel quickly became active in student government and advocacy upon arriving at Cal. She was elected to serve as a senator in the Associated Students of U.C., and also was the Internal Vice President of the largest college political party chapters in California. Her passion for the democratic process began early – she has extensive campaign experience and has been canvassing and phone-banking for various candidates for years. As an advocate, she was a co-chair of the 2011 Western Region LGBTQIA Conference and is active with the CalSERVE (Students for Equal Rights and a Valid Education) coalition, which works to promote civil rights, improve college affordability and other issues facing Cal students.

Seeking to improve fairness and transparency in government, as her Blueprint for Social Justice, Ariel wrote and introduced a bill in the Student Senate that would withdraw the Berkeley Student Government’s $3.5 million treasury out of Bank of America, and encourages the University to do the same. Ariel’s bill passed the Student Senate with unanimous support.

This action was prompted by the growing national effort to get major corporations to refrain from spending their vast treasuries to influence elections. Just last week, the shareholders of Bank of America called on the company to refrain from such spending and strengthen its disclosure practices. People who have a stake in Bank of America and companies like it – from shareholders to 401(k) enrollees and even students at universities like Cal – have a right to know if the corporations they invest in are using those funds to support candidates, causes or attack ads without their knowledge or approval. By withdrawing the Cal Student Government’s funds from Bank of America, students are sending a powerful message: like all Americans, young people are affected by the undue influence that wealthy special interests have in our democratic system, and it is time to do something about it. Ariel’s effort was echoed around the country last week, as students joined demonstrations at various Bank of America branches to add their voices to the call and telling corporations to stop spending money on politics.

You can read Ariel’s article in the Daily Californian about how to enact change by making informed financial decisions here.

PFAW Foundation

Introducing the 2012-2013 YP4 Fellows

After weeks of reviewing applications and conducting interviews, we’re pleased to announce People For the American Way Foundation’s 2012-2013 Young People For (YP4) Fellowship class! From a large and diverse pool of over 450 applications, 150 dynamic progressive leaders were selected.

Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities.YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project, the Blueprint for Social Justice. YP4 helps them refine their plans, organize and network with fellow campus leaders, partners and alumni at regional trainings, through mentorship and at the National Summit.

YP4’s newest class is comprised of young progressive leaders from 32 states, 76% represent communities of color, 67% are women, 21% identify as LGBT. The Fellows will begin their YP4 experience this summer at their respective Regional Training, where Fellows will meet with 30-40 other young activists and organizers from their region as well as YP4 staff and organizational partners. The regional trainings provide Fellows with the opportunity to gain expertise in the issues affecting their communities and participate in workshops designed to develop the skills they need to become leaders in the progressive movement.

Meet YP4’s new Fellows!

PFAW Foundation

YP4 Featured Fellow: Johnny Buck

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing.

We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This week, we’re pleased to introduce Johnny Buck, representing Northwest Indian College.

Johnny Buck grew up near Priest River Dam on the Columbia River in central Washington state, and is a student at Northwest Indian College, where he focuses on environmental studies. Buck is also a George Washington University Native Political Leadership program Fellow at the Department of Education, a program designed to give young Native Americans the skills they need to be successful political leaders.

His goal is to apply what he’s learned to revitalize his tribe’s language and culture in the Wanapum Village and ultimately to benefit all Tribal Nations.

Young People For has been actively engaging the Native American community for several years. In 2009, Buck was a member of YP4’s Tribal College Leadership Program (TCLP), which brings together 23 tribal college students showing great leadership potential and seeks to empower young Native Americans to change their communities by connecting them to the larger progressive movement.

“My community is deeply rooted in culture, language, traditions and ceremony,” said Buck. “By helping to revitalize our horse culture and language, I have committed myself to the younger generations in my community.”

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