Impacthttps://impact.vice.com/en_usRSS feed for https://impact.vice.comenTue, 19 Jun 2018 15:30:00 +0000<![CDATA[An Introduction to VICE Impact's Partnership With evian]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/xwmpnz/an-introduction-to-vice-impacts-partnership-with-evianTue, 19 Jun 2018 15:30:00 +0000VICE Impact launched in April of 2017 as a call to action. A brand new VICE platform tackling the most pressing global issues. The stories it tells, the characters it profiles and the organizations it spotlights all share the goal of safeguarding our future, whether that be via gun control, curbing climate change or improving voting rights.

VICE’s reporting has taken our audience from offshore oil rigs to anti-fracking rallies to flood lands left behind after Hurricane Harvey. We tell these stories because we believe that information empowers people and that we can all contribute to enacting change. To that end, we have built partnerships with foundations, nonprofits, advocacy groups and brands seeking to drive social progress on issues important to us all.

In this context, we’re announcing a new partnership with evian to address plastic waste and the role of businesses in environmental protection. Bottled water and products made of plastic are widely regarded as agents of carbon emissions and ocean pollution. But what role should the private sector play in solving this global problem? We need to recognize when companies are taking the necessary steps to curb their emissions and reduce their plastic waste.

The world-leading French bottled water company might seem at odds with an initiative to encourage climate action, but evian is willing to prove otherwise. They have recently announced a series of bold commitments: an aim to offset pollution caused by transporting evian water by 2020, and a pledge for full circularity by 2025, meaning that all their bottles will be made from 100% recycled plastic. Here is a company recognizing its responsibility in a global problem, assuming a leadership role in solving it, and working to offset its contributions. That is why we chose to partner with evian, to tell the story of their shift to a circular business model.

How will they do it? In short: with a lot of money and a lot of effort. evian will offset their carbon emissions by funding research into ocean clean up programs and new systems that produce energy from natural biogasses. They will be fully transparent about their efforts, and in the process, hope to set a new industry standard to hold other water brands accountable. And finally, they will work hard to influence consumer behavior through initiatives that encourage reuse and recycling. Like VICE Impact, they want to empower people to make their own change.

VICE Impact will document evian’s innovative efforts through films and editorial. We will not shy away from asking them challenging questions: What is circularity and can it really improve their operations and carbon output? What material difference can a bottled water company make when it comes to fighting marine waste? And how can each of us get involved in curbing our environmental footprint?

Plans like these, coming from a global company like evian, have the power to make a significant contribution to curbing carbon emissions and plastic waste, a mission that has never been more urgent. As it stands today, global plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years and quadruple to 318 million tonnes by 2050, at which point the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by weight. Wary of the pace at which this is happening, we are confident in our decision to track evian’s commitments and journey along the way, and see how they plan to make circularity a reality.

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xwmpnzKatherine KeatingAaron Barksdalewaterpartnershiprecyclebottled waterplastic wasteEvianocean pollutionLivable Planet
<![CDATA[This Civil Right Pioneer is Still Fighting Against Segregation Decades Later]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/vbqejm/this-civil-right-pioneer-is-still-fighting-against-segregation-decades-laterThu, 17 May 2018 19:00:00 +0000More than 60 years ago 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford had the entire world up in arms as photos of an angry mob made of men, women and children obstructed her from going to school. Usually, going to school isn’t thought of as a rebellious act for most teenagers, but in 1957 that wasn’t the case. Eckford was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine black kids who made history by becoming the first students to integrate the all-white Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Now, in this time of social and political division, Eckford has released a book, The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High.

The cover of Eckford’s book is an illustration of the infamous photo taken of her the first day she unsuccessfully attempted to enter Central High. In the photo, Eckford is surrounded by angry white people spewing hate and giving her dirty looks. She remains calm with her held high, seemingly unbothered by the crowd. However, in her book, she describes the anxiety she felt from the crowd’s threats of violence and the unwillingness of the state’s national guard to provide her with protection.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education case that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Even after the SCOTUS ruling, there was a strong opposition to desegregation, and the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, ordered the state’s national guard to bar the students’ entry into the school. The ruling put the federal government at odds with the many state-level policies, particularly in southern states when Jim Crow laws— racially biased policies that enforced segregation— were still in effect.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Discrimination persists and varies from place to place.

In her own words in the book, Eckford recounts her experiences as a teenager thrust into a challenging situation, including dealing with constant verbal and physical harassment by her white peers. Although the excruciating treatment of the Little Rock Nine happened decades ago, America still has a long way to go in achieving true racial equality and the uprising of white supremacist events, such as the deadly rally in Charlottesville and fatal encounters between people of color and the police, prove that issues Eckford’s book highlights are just as important now as they were then.


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VICE Impact was able to speak with Eckford about what it was like to integrate a school with such open hostility and what she hope’s people will take away from the book.

VICE Impact: What did it feel like the day you arrived alone to Central High School and were greeted by an angry mob?

Elizabeth Eckford: I was terrified, scared, shocked and I felt terribly alone.

How did you find the courage to go back to school the following day? What made you persist?

We realized that a lot of people were depending on us. Thelma Mothershed had a serious heart condition, and I did not feel that I could leave her behind.

I shared my experiences from Central High School because I want young people to realize they can lift someone up with kindness

Your bravery has been recognized by state and national leaders, was there one honor that has been the most significant or exciting to receive?

The Congressional Gold Medal was the most significant. It was the first national recognition that we received. Most recently, I was recognized as a Champion of Justice by the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization created the Legacy Museum and featured my image to represent the period of segregation. I was touched and honored by the efforts of Bryan Stenson and the entire Equal Justice Initiative team.

(Bettmann/Getty Images)

Why was it important for you to share your experiences as a member of the Little Rock Nine in your book?

I shared my experiences from Central High School because I want young people to realize they can lift someone up with kindness. It is supportive to one who has been set apart and harassed. To that person, passers-by seem as if they don’t care; that they think you are getting what you deserve. You can be the change by treating the despised person kindly. Language can be powerful.

Why do you believe that integration was such a controversial and divisive issue, particularly in Arkansas at that time?

Four small Arkansas school districts desegregated on their own due to economic reasons. Central High was the first major test of the Brown decision and it was where a conflict between state and federal government was resolved. It proved to be a constitutional crisis between the state and federal government and it was resolved in two ways: by a federal court order to prevent the Governor from further interference, and by the President sending in troops to ensure that we got into school safely, disbanding the mob.

What were some of the challenges you faced during your time at Central High School? How did you overcome them?

Not having any protection. The Arkansas National Guard soldiers followed behind us several paces behind. The Principal would ignore battery reports if they weren’t witnessed by an adult.

Even with a witness, most reports were ignored anyway. Most attacks happened in the hallways. Something happened every day, but we could not predict where or when it would happen. We were knocked down stairs, kicked, scalded in gym showers, body-slammed into wall lockers. We were generally knocked-about every day. It never ceased.

We overcame them by returning to school. One day I simply couldn’t take it and requested my Grandfather to pick me up, but I returned the next day.

How would you say America’s political climate and level of racial tolerance has changed since desegregation?

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Discrimination persists and varies from place to place.

What do you think is the appropriate response to fighting the racial injustice that still continues in America?

Name it; challenge it; call attention to it.

What advice do you have for young black Americans who are fighting oppression?

Prepare yourself as well as possible for future opportunities, because if you’re not prepared, you won’t be considered.

In 2018, people will head to the ballots for the midterm elections. How do you recommend people take civic action in support of equal rights for people of color?

Study the issues and the candidate’s records. Don’t just follow the crowd.

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vbqejmAaron BarksdaleSean HutchinsonRACISMVoicesBrown v. Board of EducationCharlottesvillelittle rock nine
<![CDATA[Legal Weed Could Revolutionize PTSD Treatment For Veterans]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/wj7wmq/legal-weed-could-revolutionize-ptsd-treatment-for-veteransTue, 08 May 2018 17:00:00 +0000For years now, veterans have been engaged in a protracted fight with the government over the proper role of marijuana in treating the mental and physical pain borne by war. Veterans of many eras and ages have fought on the state and federal levels to shift policy and public opinion on medicinal marijuana.

Take, for instance, the story of Army combat veteran Leo Bridgewater, who helped push his home state of New Jersey to allow for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to qualify as an ailment allowing a medical marijuana prescription. “Whenever my rage button has been pushed and I can feel the PTSD coming up, one of the things that I’ll do is, I’ll definitely pull out my vape pen,” Bridgewater told the Huffington Post last year. “I can remove myself, pull out my vape pen and bring it down.”

Ricardo Pereyda, a disabled veteran of the Iraq War, echoed Bridgewater’s statements in an interview with Healthline. “The pain, anger, mood swings, appetite, my sleep, all have been addressed by this one plant,” Pereyda told the publication. “I got my life back.”

Many veterans advocates see marijuana as a relatively safe pain reliever that could help curb the scourge of opioid addiction inside the veterans community. (A 2011 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs found veterans were twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose compared to the general population.)

“The pain, anger, mood swings, appetite, my sleep, all have been addressed by this one plant. I got my life back.”

"We see cannabis not as a gateway drug," former Navy Seal Nick Etten told CNBC. "We see it as an exit path off opiates."

This fierce and compelling advocacy has pushed lawmakers of both parties in 23 states to allow veterans with PTSD to seek treatment with marijuana. And while federal marijuana reform has long remained elusive, there is a growing bipartisan consensus building in Washington that could soon mandate the federal study of marijuana’s medicinal benefits; a monumental policy shift that would have huge ramifications in the fight to legalize and regulate the leafy green substance.


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There has been limited research on the actual impacts and benefits of marijuana, much of which has indicated positive benefits of using cannabis to to treat myriad ailments, including war trauma. But this data is limited, and lacks the rigor and resources brought to a federal study.

"We see cannabis not as a gateway drug. We see it as an exit path off opiates."

The federal government has long banned agencies from intensively studying marijuana, which remains federally classified as Schedule 1, alongside heroin and LSD. Despite pleas from veterans across the country, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) actively opposes marijuana use among veterans, stating on its website that “controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD. Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD.”

The VA has, however, loosened its stance on marijuana in recent months, and more substantial reforms appear on the horizon.

In December 2017, the VA shifted its policies on the drug and doctors are now encouraged to “discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care.” However, the policy provided for little else. VA doctors still can’t prescribe marijuana to veterans, even in states that allow it, and federal healthcare programs writ-large still won’t pay a cent to subsidize a marijuana prescription, which can be quite costly.

“While we know cannabis can have life-saving effects on veterans suffering from chronic pain or PTSD, there has been a severe lack of research studying the full effect of medicinal cannabis on these veterans."

The effort to open up marijuana as a viable medicine for veterans has been greatly complicated in the Trump administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a staunch opponent to marijuana legalization in any form. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin gave mixed signals on the issue before being fired by President Trump in March. The president’s former controversial nominee to run the VA -- White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson -- has given no public statement on the idea of medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for those who served.

With the White House doing little to move the issue forward, the arena for change now appears likely to be the states and, perhaps, congress. On April 16, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House introduced the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act which, if passed, would require the federal government to deeply explore the potential benefits of medicinal marijuana for all manner of maladies. The legislation is being backed by powerful veterans’ service organizations, including the American Legion and the VFW. A survey commissioned by the Legion in November found 81 percent of veterans polled support the federal legalization of marijuana.

“While we know cannabis can have life-saving effects on veterans suffering from chronic pain or PTSD, there has been a severe lack of research studying the full effect of medicinal cannabis on these veterans,” said Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat who introduced the bill along with Republican Phil Roe of Tennessee. In a matter of days, the bill has already attracted 39 co-sponsors.

See if your congress member supports the bill. You can also check to see if your state allows veterans to seek treatment for PTSD with marijuana.

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wj7wmqJasper CravenSean HutchinsonWar on Drugsveteransmarijuana legalizationRise Up
<![CDATA[These Students are Marching for Gun Control During an NRA Convention]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/evqy9a/these-students-are-marching-for-gun-control-during-an-nra-conventionThu, 03 May 2018 18:15:00 +0000This is an opinion piece by Waed Alhayek, student and executive director of StudentMarch.org.

Dear America, I love you but do you love me back? As an immigrant, you have given me so much hope and opportunity but I don’t feel safe anymore. History has its eyes on us, and we’re all tired of staying silent.

It’s hard to imagine the face of violence until it’s in front of you -- until it locks the doors of your local convenience store and points a gun at you and makes you remember every prayer your mother has recited to you. That’s what happened to me, seven years young and going to grab some snacks for movie night with a friend when suddenly, the store went dark. I experienced something that no child -- no human being -- should ever go through.

Thinking about never graduating from high school or college crushed my soul because even at a young age I had so many dreams. I made it out alive, but there are so many who don’t. I waited my whole life for someone to start the conversation. Tragedy after tragedy, I waited for laws to change. But that change never came. The Parkland students waited for no one, and I was inspired. Every part of myself that loved history and politics was fired up and ready to fight for a cause I was passionate about. I reached out to the local March For Our Lives chapter and got involved with like-minded students, and we came together quickly and intentionally to make change.

This committee was my new chosen family, and we moved forward from one battle to the next. This wasn’t just about school shootings, but rather the problem our country faces in talking about a systematic issue in which we value a money-making business over the lives of our citizens, including children.


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97 percent of American voters support universal background checks, yet there is no legislation that supports this. Our committee formed a non-profit organization called StudentsMarch.org, an organization that focuses on so many issues our country faces daily, starting with gun violence. We want to give students a platform—one which they were told they didn’t deserve. People tell us how we know nothing about this issue, but they don’t realize we are the experts on this subject. We are the post-Columbine generation faced with the normalization of violence and hatred that has spread through our country, where gun violence in urban communities is ignored because it’s easy to do.

We work together to partner with local and national organizations because unity speaks volumes. We tell people to reach out to their local politicians through our website because it is time we hold them accountable for their actions.

It’s time we let them know that they either start protecting and serving us, or we will find someone else who will. We will no longer tweet our thoughts and prayers, but rather create effective policy change.

Our next effort takes place in Dallas, Texas this weekend as we come together again with friends and allies from all across the country to declare enough is enough. The Rally4Reform is a show of solidarity with all those who have been affected by gun violence and those we have loved and lost to that violence and hatred. We won’t hope and wish for change any more—we stand and demand it, together.

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evqy9aWaed AlhayekSean Hutchinsongun controlNRAVoiceslocal electionsGrassroots Organizingmarch for our lives
<![CDATA[This Teen Activist Isn't Done Fighting for Common Sense Gun Control ]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/zmganj/this-teen-activist-isnt-done-fighting-for-common-sense-gun-controlMon, 30 Apr 2018 17:00:00 +0000 When 13 people lost their lives at the hands of two teenage gunmen at Columbine High School in 1999, 16-year-old Lane Murdock wasn’t even a spec on the global population radar. Now, 19 years later, the Connecticut high school sophomore has organized and executed a 50-state, day-long student walkout with one mission: end mass gun violence, and turn up civic engagement among young people along the way.

“I was done with being powerless. I was tired of watching decision being made by the older generation hurting you people who never agreed to these conditions,” Murdock told VICE Impact. “And I think for me, it was just the awareness that I was desensitized and the country was desensitized.”

Murdock is the brains behinds the April 20th National Student Walkout, an idea that started with a Change.org petition and continues on with more than 200 associated high school chapters. Murdock penned the petition from her suburban home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, less than half an hour away from Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 elementary school children and six educators were shot and killed by a single shooter in 2012. At the time, Murdock was only ten years old. Murdock and her peers’ preteen and teenage years have been marked with more than 300 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting -- a number so high that victim names and tragic narratives have begun to blur in the public conscious. But that all changed when a former student shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“We’re trying to create a long-term strategy to get young people really, really involved and to demystify how politics move in the United States.”

The Parkland massacre, largely recognized as the most deadly school shooting since Columbine, sparked student protests around the country, with Marjory Stoneman students at the forefront. On March 14, exactly one month after the shooting in Parkland, thousand of students and teachers walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence, with many protests lasting for 17 minutes to commemorate the the number of lives lost. Last week’s National School Walkout and the network of high school chapters it created, hopes to build alongside the groundwork laid by last month’s nationwide action.

“Momentum, regardless of the movement’s strategy or focus, is always something any activist is weary of,” Murdock said. “It’s something we have to fight against, because it’s part of human nature to kind of want to forget. So for us, it’s all about the civil engagement.”


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Civil engagement, Murdock says, is the next step. Beyond thoughts and prayers, and in addition to public and online action. With the actual day-long action behind her, Murdock wants to keep the National School Walkout vision alive by increasing an understanding of the political system, and the power that citizen voices wield, in high school communities across the country.

It’s an ambitious goal, and it’s lead almost completely by students. A letter from Murdock on the movement website reads: “Adults have failed us, so we’ve taking things into our own hands. But the walkouts aren’t the end, they are just beginning”. To Murdock, this “grown-ups on the sidelines” approach is imperative to the movement’s success. She advises adults to respect the student-grown identity of the movement. “As a student activist you always want to make sure that no one’s controlling you,” Murdock said. “Be an ally. Don’t be a commander, don’t even be a teacher, just be an ally and let this movement grow and let it bloom.”

In the coming weeks, Murdock and her peer organizers plan to launch new events, new organizing tools, and new opportunities for nationwide collaboration, all focused around increasing the voices of pre-voting age citizens in the fight against gun violence. Currently, they’re working with the support of Indivisible, a national progressive advocacy organization started in response to the 2016 presidential election.

“Adults have failed us, so we’ve taking things into our own hands."

“Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be trying to lead an effort to crowdsource the most ambitious gun violence prevention platform we’ve ever seen by using and talking to kids from all over the country,” Murdock said. “We’re trying to create a long-term strategy to get young people really, really involved and to demystify how politics move in the United States.”

Murdock couldn’t give too many details on what’s next for the National Student Walkout movement, but promises another mass national engagement event in the coming weeks. “it’s one that’s going to have long term effects,” she said. But for now, Murdock and her co-organizers are focusing on empowering students to join the NSW chapter movement, especially in communities where conversations about gun violence are underrepresented.

If you’re in a position where you don’t have family support, you don’t have community support, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong… History has shown that individuals where the odds may be against them but they have a message that matters, the truth is the truth,” Murdock said. “Time is on our side. We’re going to grow up to take office and vote…. Young people have always been at the forefront of social change, and you are a piece of that and you are a part of that history.”

The initial National School Walkout may have passed, but it’s not too late for high school students to start their own chapter or contact your congressperson. Students who participated on April 20th can also share their story and experience through the NSW online reporting form . Already secured that high school diploma? Find opportunities to speak out against gun violence with one of the nation’s many multi-generational anti-gun violence advocacy groups such as the like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence or Moms Demand Gun Violence .

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zmganjKatelyn HarropSean Hutchinsongun controllocal electionsRise UpGrassroots Organizingmarch for our livesnational school walkoutParkland survivors
<![CDATA[Automatic Voter Registration Might Get Americans to Actually Vote]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/59jv3a/automatic-voter-registration-might-get-americans-to-actually-voteFri, 27 Apr 2018 16:00:00 +0000With November fast approaching and candidates looking to snag seats across the country, fears about access to the polls are a valid concern. President Trump has falsely claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, adding to a distrust of the voting system, and the mounting evidence that Russia interfered in the election begs the question of if and how much that interference will happen again. Add to all that the redistricting, voter intimidation, and voter ID laws that have made it harder for some people to vote, and there’s a lot of fodder for an indictment of the state of our democracy.

But there is a silver lining : one that has garnered strong bipartisan support and little in the way of detractors, and it’s bringing more people to the polls and promising a younger and more diverse electorate than ever: automatic voter registration (AVR).

Bobby Hoffman, state voting rights expert with the ACLU, divides the kinds of problems that exist in voting rights into four categories: voter suppression, redistricting reforms, modernization, and restoration of rights.

“Through our Let People Vote Campaign, we address problems that come up in each state and remove barriers,” Hoffman told VICE Impact.

AVR, which falls under the umbrella of voter modernization, was first implemented in the U.S. in 2015 in Oregon. Since then, an ever-growing list of states have adopted the practice, which basically flips the way people are registered to vote on its head. Before, when an individual went to the DMV or otherwise interacted with a state agency, they might be asked to check a box if they’d like to register to vote. Now they have to check a box if they don’t want to be.


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“These infrastructures were already in place,” Sergio Espana, the ACLU’s engagement mobilization director in Maryland, told VICE Impact. “AVR basically changes a paragraph’s worth of text from opt-in to opt-out.”

But even though the action seems small and straightforward, the impact has already been profound.

“They go to the DMV, they become pre-registered, and when they turn 18 they are registered to vote."

“We’ve seen a 2-to-5-percent increase in registration [in Maryland],” explained Espana, “and that leads to an increase in turnout. Not only that, but the demographics tend to be younger, poorer, and people of color.”

Part of the reason for this is the ways in which these voters are interacting with state agencies. AVR is happening at DMVs, which is a profound way to reach young people going in to get their licenses for the first time. In some states, like California, they’ve passed laws allowing pre-registration.

“This expands AVR to 16 and 17 year-olds,” said Hoffman. “They go to the DMV, they become pre-registered, and when they turn 18 they are registered to vote. Coming out of Parkland we see a lot of this happening, folks getting pre-registered. It’s caught the attention of current high school students who are advocating.”

But there are plenty of people, many of whom have lower incomes, who don’t go to the DMV. They might not have cars or drivers licenses. They also might be difficult to track down if they move from home to home. Still, these people may be interacting with state agencies in different ways.

“In Maryland, for example, registration also occurs through state healthcare exchanges,” said Hoffman. “Or when requesting SNAP benefits, they will offer you the opportunity to register to vote.”

“Even though the president of the United States is out there spreading lies about non-citizens participating in our democracy, what we’re seeing at the state level in this session throughout the country is that states are passing legislation to take away barriers.”

Still, he says, the majority of AVR happens at the DMV, and this is a concern.

“We work with nonprofits who are doing registration door to door and reaching voters by other means,” said Hoffman, “and we will try to include them in AVR bills, to make opportunities to expand to other state agencies in the future.”

One notable aspect of AVR, at a time when politics is so divisive and everything seems to be a hot-button issue, is the bipartisan support it enjoys. Since Oregon passed its AVR bill three years ago, 13 states have now joined the ranks, and while there have been some healthy conversations about possible issues with AVR, it always manages to proceed through the chambers.

“There hasn’t been a lot of pushback against this,” said Hoffman. “Even though the president of the United States is out there spreading lies about non-citizens participating in our democracy, what we’re seeing at the state level in this session throughout the country is that states are passing legislation to take away barriers.”

The ACLU did not get involved in Let People Vote or AVR with a political agenda or to increase voter turnout for any one party, but for the broader goal of increasing voter participation.

“We are not coming at this from a partisan level,” said Espana. “There is an upsurge in voter interest in participating in the political process, and a lot of the folks engaging are new to the process and feel a sense of urgency. We want to ensure that our electoral infrastructure is able to accommodate that uptick in voting that ensures every single citizen has access to the polls.”

Find outwhere your state stands on voter modernization and AVR , and if your state hasn’t yet adopted this commonsense way to increase voter turnout, contact your Member of Congress. Join the Let People Vote campaign to participate directly in expanding voting rights.

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59jv3aEmily WeitzSean HutchinsonbipartisanRise UpAutomatic voter registrationMidterm Elections
<![CDATA[Voters Will Decide Whether 1.5 Million Ex-Offenders Gain Back Their Right to Vote]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/d35q7x/voters-will-decide-whether-15-million-ex-offenders-gain-back-their-right-to-voteWed, 25 Apr 2018 04:30:00 +0000 Despite the startling number of 1.5 million disenfranchised Floridians, state government officials have been pushing back against efforts to amend Florida’s notoriously difficult voter restoration system for ex-offenders. Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla) and Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have recently appealed a judge’s order calling on the state to create a new voter restoration process to replace the current “arbitrary” system by April 26. As elected officials go head-to-head on the constitutionality of the state’s draconian voter laws, voters will have the power to restore voting rights for Floridians who have paid their debts to society in the upcoming midterm elections – and it’s all thanks to grassroots efforts.

Florida is one of the few states in the nation that permanently strips the right to vote from people who have been convicted of a felony. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million Floridians are disenfranchised due to prior felonies, and an astounding 10 percent of the adult population in the state is voteless due to felony convictions period.

After Scott took office in 2011, he reversed efforts made by his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, to restore voting rights to ex-offenders with nonviolent felony convictions. Scott and other Cabinet-level officials implemented a rule that offenders – including nonviolent offenders – had to wait at least five years after completing their sentences before petitioning the state for the restoration of their civil rights. But the clemency process following the initial wait period has proven to contain even more roadblocks in practice.

Florida is one of the few states in the nation that permanently strips the right to vote from people who have been convicted of a felony.

Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), a national nonpartisan voting rights group, sued Scott, Bondi, and other state officials last year in a class action lawsuit on behalf of nine plaintiffs who are disenfranchised, and who have applied to have their voting rights restored and were denied. U.S District Judge Mark Walker, a President Barack Obama appointee, ruled in support of the lawsuit this past February, finding the state’s voting ban and restoration process for ex-offenders to be unconstitutional. On March 27 he issued a permanent injunction that the governor and Cabinet create a new voter restoration system.

“Florida’s vote-restoration scheme providing government officials’ with unfettered discretion and no meaningful time restraints on the exercise of that discretion violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” Walker’s summary judgement read in part.


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Once Florida residents complete their sentences, probation, and restitution – and the five to seven wait period has passed – a backlog of 10,000 clemency hearing requests could mean an additional wait period, which has been reported to last at least nine years in many cases. But even those Floridians who stick out the wait periods to meet before Scott, Bondi and two other members of the executive clemency board, have a significant chance of getting denied due to a multitude of reasons. According to The New York Times, Scott only grants 8 percent of the few hundred requests that make it to the quarterly clemency hearings. Walker wrote in his ruling that the clemency hearing gives “partisan officials” an “extraordinary authority” without guidelines or standards.

“Florida’s vote-restoration scheme providing government officials’ with unfettered discretion and no meaningful time restraints on the exercise of that discretion violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

Jon Sherman, senior counsel at FELN, told VICE Impact that past transcriptions and videos of Florida’s clemency hearings reveal that residents have been habitually denied their right to vote for arbitrary reasons, including having speeding tickets on their record, the lawsuit claims.

Sherman pointed to one example during a hearing in which Scott reportedly told Virginia Kay Atkins, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, that he denied her restoration because he didn’t feel “comfortable” restoring her civil rights, 10 years after her release from incarceration.

Earlier this month, Bondi’s office filed a notice of appeal at the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and also asked for a stay on the order to create a new process by the April 26 deadline. Walker quickly rejected the request to put the order on hold.

In an e-mail sent to VICE Impact, Scott’s office relayed the following statement made by John Tupps, the governor’s communication director, on April 16:

“...Judge Walker recklessly ordered elected officials to change decades of practice in a matter of weeks” the statement read in part. “This does not give the victims of crimes the voice they deserve. The Governor will always stand with victims of crimes, not criminals. Let’s remember, these criminals include those convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence.”

But as Sherman noted to VICE Impact, significant populations of ex-offenders with nonviolent felonies are the ones being gravely impacted by the state’s strict voting ban. In Florida, a driver can be convicted with a felony on their third conviction for driving with a suspended license. This would qualify a Florida resident to permanently lose their right to vote.

Grassroots efforts in Florida, particularly led by Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) and chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, have now enabled voters to hold the power in restoring voting rights for a significant percentage of the state’s population. Floridians for a Fair Democracy have successfully gathered more than the minimum amount of signatures needed to have a voter restoration initiative on the ballot this November.

The ballot initiative will ask Floridians to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on whether to allow “people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense” to have their right to vote automatically restored after completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.

Florida’s Jim Crow-era law permanently banning ex-offenders from voting disproportionately affects black people, who are more likely to be targeted by cops, and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts. The Sentencing Project estimates that nearly a quarter of the black population in Florida is disenfranchised.

The ballot initiative will ask Floridians to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on whether to allow “people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense” to have their right to vote automatically restored after completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.

With such a significant percentage of the Florida population disenfranchised, it’s especially important for eligible voters to make their voices heard in the upcoming midterm elections.

“It’s the most important voting rights ballot initiative possibly in the history of the country,” Sherman told VICE Impact. “You’re talking about the largest enfranchisement of voters since the Voting Rights Act was passed.”

Efforts to put Florida's constitutional amendment on the ballot is a community effort. You can help restore voting rights in Florida.

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d35q7xKimberley RichardsSean Hutchinsonvoter suppressionvoter rightsRise UpVote Nowfelony disenfranchisement
<![CDATA[These Women of Color Are Bringing Diversity to the Cannabis Industry]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/ywxjkv/these-women-of-color-are-bringing-diversity-to-the-cannabis-industryMon, 23 Apr 2018 19:30:00 +0000 This is the second of a two-part series looking at the women of color revolutionizing the cannabis industry.

Representation matters, and not just in Hollywood. In the cannabis industry, there’s a new crop of black women on Instagram and beyond who are shamelessly open about their use and support of cannabis. These ladies are putting their foot down so that they can have a seat at the table and be represented in this new frontier of legal weed. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational weed is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.

From business owners to cannabis yoga instructors to ganja rappers, these ladies are carving out a space for women of color in the overwhelming white and male-dominated cannabis industry. Just by existing in this space, these ganja queens are tackling the stigmas and breaking down barriers so that the face of the new wave of mainstream legal weed entrepreneurs is changing.

Joy Clarke, Founder of Mahogany Mary --@MahoganyMary

Joy Clarke has been working in the cannabis industry for a little over one year. She hosts bespoke cannabis events that aim to educate and elevate those who are cannabis consumers or who are interested in learning more about the plant. The Chicago native told VICE Impact that cannabis has always been “part of my lifestyle.” It’s one of the reasons why she created her cannabis event company, Mahogany Mary.


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“When it comes to people of color, we aren’t highlighted,” she said of the cannabis industry’s lack of diversity. “We’re there. There’s a nice amount of us but we’re not highlighted.”

For her, the goal of Mahogany Mary is to remedy that lack of diversity by helping people to understand via her events that “weed is only the beginning of plant-based medicine.”

“I talk about cannabis very openly to erase the faux pas."

She credits her move to Los Angeles about three years ago as one of the catalysts for starting her business, calling cannabis something she didn’t see as a business but rather “communal” before starting Mahogany Mary.

“The way that [cannabis] was told in school was to stay away, stay away, it’s a gateway drug – lies,” she said. In college, she admits that she used to talk down to people who smoked weed because she wasn’t exposed to seeing young professionals or people who just use weed for ailments. People, she explained, were “in the closet” about their cannabis use. But, now, her perspective on cannabis is very different.

(Image via Murilo Ottoni Costa)

But Eustacio-Costa, who has been living in Los Angeles for 14 years, admits that it wasn’t without challenges as she began to outgrow teaching in her home and started looking for venues to use for her yoga classes.

She emailed at least 30 people on Craigslist, yoga studios, and other places she thought would work for her cannabis yoga classes. She would either never hear back from the venues, or she would be told smoking wasn’t allowed on the premises.

“It’s really hard to find places, especially yoga studios and places that are appropriate to do yoga, that allow you to smoke there,” she explained.

Prior to becoming a full-time cannabis yoga instructor, she worked in a hospital as a nurse assistant. The “bureaucracy” of the healthcare system left her feeling like she wasn’t really helping people in a real way. Additionally, she felt like she was living a double life because she would “never talk about” the fact that she smoked weed out of fear of being fired. Eustacio-Costa’s cannabis enhanced yoga classes now happen weekly in Los Angeles.

“Right now, I am helping on the spiritual level and wellbeing level and self-care – which to me I feel like is a little bit deeper,” she said of her classes.

Do you think weed should or shouldn't be legal? Contact your congressperson above and tell them how you feel about legalizing marijuana.

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ywxjkvShonitria AnthonySean HutchinsonWeedSocial MediaVoicesmarijuana legalizationCannabis industrywomen of colorinfluencers
<![CDATA[Meet the Women of Color Revolutionizing the Weed Industry]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/ne9m8q/meet-the-women-of-color-revolutionizing-the-weed-industryFri, 20 Apr 2018 17:30:00 +0000This is the first of a two-part series looking at the women of color revolutionizing the cannabis industry.

Representation matters, and not just in Hollywood. In the cannabis industry, there’s a new crop of black women on Instagram and beyond who are shamelessly open about their use and support of cannabis. These ladies are putting their foot down so that they can have a seat at the table and be represented in this new frontier of legal weed. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational weed is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.

From business owners to cannabis yoga instructors to ganja rappers, these ladies are carving out a space for women of color in the overwhelming white and male-dominated cannabis industry. Just by existing in this space, these ganja queens are tackling the stigmas and breaking down barriers so that the face of the new wave of mainstream legal weed entrepreneurs is changing.

Iyana, creator of Kush and Cute -- @KushandCute

When speaking about where she sees her company, Iyana (who chose not to disclose her last name) says she wants Kush and Cute to be displayed on the shelves of every store nationwide. While her cannabis skincare product company only started in November 2017, she’s been working in the cannabis industry since 2016.

“There are more and more people of color rising to notoriety in the [cannabis] space. But a lot of work needs to be done for it to be considered diverse and inclusive. But we are optimistic that it can be done.”

As someone who had been making do-it-yourself body products for years, it came to her one day to “combine one of my DIY recipes with cannabis, and the results were fantastic.” It wasn’t until the 23-year-old, who grew up in Texas and Southern California, attended a cannabis event in California that she said she noticed a need for more women in the cannabis industry.


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“I was really confused and appalled by the lack of women -- especially black women -- in the industry, because we of course like weed, too!” she told VICE Impact.

However, growing up she wasn’t always interested in cannabis.

“I had this false idea that it would make you dumb or that people who smoked weed did nothing else but smoke weed and that it was a gateway drug -- obviously not,” she said.

Iyana’s also dealt with anxiety her whole life, so the first time she smoked weed, she said it was like a light bulb went off -- all her anxiety went away.

These ladies are carving out a space for women of color in the overwhelming white and male-dominated cannabis industry.

“It was like the weed was a sponge and my anxiety was water, it just dissolved it instantly. I've been a cannabis user and advocate ever since,” she said.

Despite making strides with her own business, she said people of color are still underrepresented in the industry due to unjust laws and punishment.

“A lot of people of color are honestly scared of getting in this industry because of that or they personally know someone that got arrested for weed,” she said, not mincing words: “We're moving targets.”

However, Iyana thinks inclusivity in the cannabis industry can be achieved through education, which she has already started to do in Texas.

“A few months ago, I had a speaking engagement about the benefits of CBD [cannabidiol, one of the many cannabinoids in cannabis] to a group of black estheticians in Texas,” she said. “When I did tell them [about the benefits] they were upset that they didn't know the benefits of CBD sooner. Of course, anyone can research this information, but if no one brings a specific group this information how are they ever going to get it?”

She hopes that more women will help to educate others about the benefits of cannabis -- especially black women. But, for now, she’s focused on what’s next for Kush and Cute.

“We've been sold out of some customer favorites for a while -- CBD bath bombs, high healthy skin beauty oil -- but that will be restocked again very soon and we're working on some more new yummy scents for our wake and bake coffee body scrub for the summer,” she said.

“A lot of people of color are honestly scared of getting in this industry because of that or they personally know someone that got arrested for weed."

Additionally, Kush and Cute will host an event in July, called “Brunch, Shop & Sesh.” It’s described as “a safe space for female cannabis users and non-users to network while learning about the benefits of cannabis.”

Mary Pryor, Tonya Rapley, Charlese Antoinette, Creators of Cannaclusive -- @Cannaclusive

After growing tired of being the only black faces at cannabis events, Mary Pryor, Tonya Rapley and Charlese Antoinette decided to do something about it by creating their own business: Cannaclusive.

“We were surprised to find that it was a largely white male and female dominated space and that we were met with hesitancy, almost stupor as to how we found out about the events,” Pryor, Rapley and Antoinette, told VICE Impact. “Many times, we felt as if they had their token black person and we were making them comfortable by exceeding their quota. This sentiment trickled into advertising and much of the media’s depiction of the growing cannabis industry, and we didn’t feel that it had to be that way.”

They explained that they created Cannaclusive to establish “spaces and things for people like us – educated, driven women of color who enjoy the healing benefits of cannabis.”

It’s why they created a Flickr photo series, featuring hundreds of images of a diverse group of men and women smoking weed, rolling joints, puffing on a vape, and more. The photos can be used by anyone, with the caveat that Cannaclusive’s given the photo credit.

Charlese Antoinette, Tonya Rapley and Mary Pryor. (Photo via Cannaclusive)

In addition to elevating the voices of people of color, Pryor said that “in every way possible” they want to combat any stigmas about cannabis. They are planning to host several workshops on cannabis education across the country, including, Washington, D.C., New York City, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

“There are more and more people of color rising to notoriety in the [cannabis] space,” they said. “But a lot of work needs to be done for it to be considered diverse and inclusive. But we are optimistic that it can be done.”

Do you think weed should or shouldn't be legal? Contact your congressperson above and tell them how you feel about legalizing marijuana.

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ne9m8qShonitria AnthonySean HutchinsonWeedSocial MediaVoicesmarijuana legalizationCannabis industrywomen of colorinfluencers
<![CDATA[Harsher Weed Policies Make Us Less Safe]]>https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/wj7y7y/harsher-weed-policies-make-us-less-safeThu, 19 Apr 2018 19:30:00 +0000

The War on Drugs narrative that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has revived like a zombie is an antiquated set of policies that ignores decades of research. Sessions has said that marijuana is almost as dangerous as heroin, that good people don’t smoke pot, and that he thought the KKK were okay “until I found out they smoked pot”. But extensive studies, like the one published through the Economic Journal by professors Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman, are proving him wrong.

In a 2016 study, the authors look at 16 years of weed legalization and its correlation to violent crime in border states, and they found unequivocally that when border states legalize medical marijuana, violent crime drops. When inland states legalize medical marijuana, violent crime in the nearest border state drops. They looked at data from the FBI and District Attorneys offices, and compared crime rates before and after legalization between 1994 and 2012.

“California was the first state to legalize marijuana in 1996,” Kamada, told VICE Impact. “Now, in San Diego, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries is greater than the number of Starbucks.”

"In order to reduce crime, legalization of marijuana is one way to go.”

And you don’t need to have cancer to get your weed prescription. In California, a medical marijuana “green card” can be obtained for symptoms like difficulty falling asleep or anxiety. Because so many people are able to access weed legally, the market for illegal pot is drying up.

“It has a huge impact on violent crime in the US/Mexico border regions,” said Kamada.


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Under the FBI classification, violent crime means murder, rape, burglary, or aggravated assault. Much of this reduction in crime is connected, not surprisingly, to drug trafficking. Kamada said there is less fighting over territory between rival Mexican cartels or American-grown gangs, because the market isn’t there.

The study also found that other drugs that are still illegal, like cocaine and methamphetamines, are going up in price.

“It’s not drugs that cause violence. It’s the prohibition of drugs that cause violence."

“This proves that the illegal drug market is weaker,” said Kamada. “This is an indirect way to understand how the introduction of medical marijuana in border states is crippling the drug trafficking of cartels.”

For Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), a 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department and board chair of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, this study is a validation of what her organization has been doing for nearly two decades.

“It’s not drugs that cause violence,” Goldstein told VICE Impact. “It’s the prohibition of drugs that cause violence. All we have to do is go back and look at alcohol prohibition and the rise of the mafia… There’s a huge shadow economy related to illicit drugs and profitability. People use violence to protect their market share because they don’t have an alternative to civil courts or arbitration to handle disputes.”

There are, of course, concerns with how legalization of marijuana will change the game for major drug organizations. The drug cartels aren’t vanishing because marijuana is legalized, and they will probably look to other forms of profit.

“Mexican drug trafficking organizations are rational actors,” said Kamada. “They respond to incentives. Marijuana was the most lucrative drug, but once legalized, [the organizations] are replaced by the legal market. But they may diversify their activities to other crimes like human trafficking and kidnapping. There is anecdotal evidence that they’re switching to smuggling opioids that grow in Mexico, but due to data constraints, we haven’t looked at that yet.”

As someone who has made his career on an evidence-based approach, Kamada sees the Sessions take on marijuana as wrong-headed. “Sessions is cracking down on dispensaries, claiming they increase crime in those areas,” he said. “But in our evidence, precisely the contrary is true. In order to reduce crime, legalization of marijuana is one way to go.”

He points to the decades of efforts to crack down on drug trafficking, and the fact that cartels always found new ways to smuggle. “This is an alternative way to curb the war on drugs and fight drug trafficking and crime associated with it,” he said.

This study doesn’t even begin to look at the other potential ways legalization could reduce crime in communities that are disproportionately affected by laws that prosecute non-violent offenders. Even though rates of marijuana consumption are comparable among white people and people of color, everyone knows that arrests and sentencing disproportionately affects communities of color. This proves that it’s not only the laws, but the enforcement that needs to be looked at.

“It’s not the fact that it’s illegal,” Margaret Dooley Samuli, a top expert on marijuana policy and law at the ACLU, told VICE Impact. “It’s the reality of how it’s enforced. The history of the war on marijuana is exceedingly clear. It’s always been targeted at people first from Mexico or South America and then African Americans. When Jeff Sessions talks about the war on marijuana, he’s actually talking about a war on people of color.”

Since people of color are arrested and convicted for low level offenses much more than their white suburban counterparts, their communities are more negatively impacted. Dooley Samuli emphasizes that prosecutors actually have a choice about which infractions to prosecute, and she encourages them to exercise that right.

“What legalization does is it allows criminal justice leadership to re-address their priorities and focus on criminal cartels and bad actors who are causing the most violence."

“These kinds of arrests destabilize whole communities,” she said. “It impacts the individual and the family, but when it happens on the scale it happens in American cities, it is very destabilizing. It’s not just a result of poverty and downward mobility – it is a cause.”

Even if the laws aren’t changed, prosecutors can make choices about what cases they put their energy into. But once the law changes, it gives police more resources to protect communities in a more effective way.

“What legalization does is it allows criminal justice leadership to re-address their priorities and focus on criminal cartels and bad actors who are causing the most violence,” said Goldstein. “It allows for a redistribution of criminal justice resources that are badly needed.”

Local prosecutors have a lot of sway in the kinds of crimes that are pursued. Call your local prosecutor and tell them you don’t think your tax dollars should go to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses. Also, contact your congressperson above and tell them what you think would really make your community safer

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wj7y7yEmily WeitzSean HutchinsonWar on Drugs Frontierweed legalizationjeff sessionsVote Now