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a southern yankee abroad

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Social Justice

The Africa I Know

 

 

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Bustling streets of Kampala

There’s a narrative about Africa told by the West that continues to leave out important details, at best, or misrepresent the continent and its people, at worst. Westerners seem to relish, to some extent, the pull at the heartstrings that comes when footage streams across the television of starving orphans wandering barefoot along the dirt roads of some remote village here. I say “relish” because seeing these images and then sending money, clothing, missionaries, or whatever makes many Westerners “feel good” because they are “doing something” to “help” those in need.

 

The Africa I know is strong enough to help itself.

 

There are orphans here. There are orphans in the United States. Many people here do have AIDS, but infection rates are on the decline. Did you see this in the news recently? Didn’t think so.

 

The narrative of Africa as helpless needs to stop. Businesses here can grow on their own, but not as long as foreign aid is given in such a way that depresses local economies, and not as long as African businesses are effectively locked out of the global economy. (For example, Amazon and Paypal may say they operate here, but from conversations I’ve had they don’t really, which prevents local entrepreneurs from expanding operations. Sadly, the people I spoke with believe this is all because people think they are being scammed if they make online payments to “someone in Africa” so these companies see no need to invest in infrastructure here.) Local economies here can’t grow as long as the Western world keeps telling itself Africa “needs” us more than we “need” them.

 

My first night in Kampala, my roommate and I ordered pizza from Jumia, an online food delivery service that functions just like Seamless, GrubHub, or Delivery.com. I have to admit I was surprised to “find this in Africa,” but really it was just the beginning of me checking my own ignorance at the door.

 

Most Ugandans I have met have a cell phone (and no, I haven’t been in Kampala the whole summer…I’ve travelled to some remote villages and small towns too!) There is also pretty good cell service throughout most of the country. But you don’t see this on TV back in the USA.

 

I’ve spent many afternoons at Kabira Country Club and Acacia Mall here in Kampala—my favorite places to relax. They are frequented by both “muzungu” families and black families. But you don’t see this on TV back in the USA. I admit these places are evidence of wealth disparity, but America has these problems too, and it doesn’t help to pretend that these places don’t or can’t exist in a place like Uganda. The question should be about upward mobility instead of denying, or not caring enough to find out, that there is development like this already here.

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Photo taken at Acacia Mall! 

It’s true corruption is a huge problem. One reason there are so many potholes in so many of the roads here (at least the ones that are paved) is that a lot of civil servants “pay themselves” from the allocated funds. But Westerners need to stop paying lip service to being concerned about corruption. There may not be much “we” can do about this, but I’d suggest at a minimum to start paying attention to news reports when another dictator “wins” an election, or when a ruler “refuses” to step down after losing a monitored, democratic election. We have to first start caring by paying attention. Who knows what may happen when the world opens its eyes and starts speaking up about the things that matter? From many conversations I’ve had, it’s not that Africa doesn’t want the world to send aid or intervene in some way; rather, it’s that they prefer to be empowered to help themselves.

 

 

And it’s true there is a lot of poverty here, but there is also a lot of innovation. There’s an education problem (there is in the USA too) but Ugandans are educated. In fact, most Ugandans I’ve met speak and write with better English than a lot of people I know in the USA. And they are all multi-lingual—a skill severely lacking in the USA.

 

And it’s true that many women here have several children. French President Emmanuel Macron recently put Western arrogance on display by proclaiming African women need to have fewer children. It’s true family planning resources are harder to come by here than in the West, but we (at least we Americans) are lying to ourselves if we think we have it all figured out. In fact, I’ve been told many times by Ugandan women here that children are viewed as a blessing from God. So maybe it’s a cultural choice. Who are we to judge? The cultural superiority needs to stop.

 

There are 54 nations on this continent, and I’ve only spent time in Uganda this summer (I’ve visited Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Egypt before, though), so my experiences here are informing my broader opinions about how the West approaches the continent. But we do need to check ourselves each time we are about to buy into this narrative that Africa is the “dark continent,” dying from AIDS and starvation. While there are areas where humanitarian crises dominate (like South Sudan), we need to stop pitying the continent. The last thing Africa, or Uganda for that matter, needs in a savior from the West.

 

I’m not saying aid should stop, or that people should stop taking service trips here for humanitarian or religious reasons. But we should stop and think about our motives and be realistic about how, and if, “our work” from the West is really helping countries like Uganda grow and develop organically on its own. And I think we should start by actually paying just as much, if not more, attention to what’s going on politically in Africa in the news as we do to those heart-rending videos of starving children in orphanages. If Africa is allowed to grow and develop on its own, more families here will be able to provide for their kids.

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An example of what I consider a “good” type of aid that involves sustainable employment solutions

The narrative needs to change. I ask everyone who has been reading my blog or following my Instagram and Facebook posts over the summer to ask me more about my time here. It’s not all destitution! The narrative of the West needs to portray Africa as a peer, not as a charity project, and it starts with how we all discuss this amazing continent together.

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Am I in NYC or Uganda?! Celebrating my birthday at Cafeserrie

Ain’t No Mountain High, Ain’t No Valley Low

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I broke my sandal playing soccer! Fortunately, this man was able to repair it on the side of the road for about 25 cents USD. Soccer is big in my office and we play often…I only play barefoot or in tennis shoes now! 

Hello, hello! Long time, no talk. I am a bit behind on my blogging. Part of the reason is because I have been so busy here in Kampala, with both work and with personal travels. But I have to admit the main reason is that I don’t feel like I am “traveling” these days; I feel like I am just living my life here in Uganda.

The last couple of weeks have been full of highs and lows. In an effort to be honest and real, I have to write about both at the risk of sounding like I am complaining. I will try to alternate between the positives and negatives as I catch you, my readers, up on the Kampala life.

 

Pro: My birthday was fabulous!!

I turned 28 years old since I last posted! Thanks to my amazing co-workers and new ex-pat and local friends from here in Kampala, I celebrated my birthday with a surprise party/Ugandan feast during the day and with a dinner at my favorite Kampala restaurant, Cafeserrie, at night. My co-workers also showered me in gifts…I was truly humbled! ❤ This birthday was one of my best yet—it reminded me so much of last year, when I trekked Vinicunca Mountain in Peru and the local villagers threw me a mini-surprise party. It is going to be so hard to beat #27 and #28!

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Con: “Africa time”

Both locals and ex-pats alike use this term to describe the perpetual lateness of literally everyone and everything here. For example, when messaging our office last week about the start time of a meeting, the head of my organization who is a native Ugandan said “2pm, No Africa time please!” While I can be guilty of being late myself from time to time back in the US, nothing in the US comes close to being on par with “Africa time.” Basically, it means double however long something is supposed to last, or add an hour or so on to any time at which something is supposed to start.

 

This week in particular, I’ve had some bad experiences with Africa time. I think the worst experience was when the bus that was supposed to take our team to Masaka for a training led by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights arrived to pick us up 5 hours late. That’s right, 5 hours….that means we arrived in Masaka at midnight, because of course the 2 hour journey took 5 hours in “Africa time.” We then went to a local restaurant to eat, as no one had eaten dinner. I was so exhausted and nauseated from the trip I could barely eat anything (and also, I think I’ve had my fill of Ugandan food, as described in the next con).

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Exhausted from late night travel…
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All piled into our matatu (a Ugandan taxi) on the trip back from Masaka…fortunately the trip back was not as traumatic!

One thing I love about Africa time is it means more leisure and less stress and worry. It’s been so nice to slow down from my usual NYC pace and live life at a pace that allows me to enjoy each day and live in the moment. However, this week has really made me miss the efficiency of the good ole US of A. I guess one positive is I now have an accurate way to describe the NYC subway system…it’s just running on Africa time!

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Enjoying a stop at the Equator on the way back from Masaka with the team

 

Pro: Jinja, the Source of the Nile

Last weekend in Jinja was amazing! Located about three hours (Africa time) from Kampala, Jinja is home of the source of the Nile River, which flows north through Uganda through South Sudan to Egypt and the Mediterranean. Jinja town was adorable, and full of so many cute art shops. I bought so much here!! (Including lots of jewelry for myself and friends and family, and 2 sets of coasters for my apartment, haha…adulting hard!!) Saturday, I kayaked in the still waters while Carissa rented a stand-up paddle board.

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That evening, we did a “dinner cruise” (which was actually more like a booze cruise) down the Nile at sunset. There were about 20 military members from the US, France, and the UK on the cruise from our campsite, so you can imagine this got to be pretty entertaining. Carissa and I camped in our tent along the banks of the Nile that night…it rained hard but our tent kept out all the water!

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Sunset along the Nile
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Enjoying a “quiet” moment on the “dinner cruise” hahaha

The next day, we went on an all-day rafting trip. This was my first time ever whitewater rafting, and it was a blast!! The rapids were grade 5, which is the most difficult level there is. Our guide, Koa, instructed us expertly as we navigated each rapid. We flipped over twice!!

Between each rapid, there was a nice long stretch of still water where we could relax and swim. I even got pulled out of the boat twice…the military guys would row up next to our boat and use their paddles to pull me in! Then Koa would have to pull me back into the boat. It was pretty hilarious.

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I’m about to fly out of the boat here!

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Pretty sure I am the one already facedown in the water haha

 

Con: Food

I started out really loving the food here, but after 1 month of it, I think I am done. One problem is the portions at lunch are so huge, and I get “in trouble” if I don’t eat “enough”! I have even talked to our cooks twice about giving me smaller portions each day, but they continue to pile it on. Also, matoke is literally served at every meal. I have had enough matoke to last me the rest of my life.

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My appetizing dinner in Masaka…the pea soup actually tasted good though. I didn’t eat the matoke… 😦

The good news is I have found a pizza place here that I like, as it’s my #1 food back in NYC, as well as a place that sells hummus, so hopefully I can survive the next 1.5 months. There’s also a Pizza Hut if I get desperate and homesick enough! And, there is always Cafeserrie, where I go at least once a week now, which has delicious salads, pastas, and pizzas.

 

This week, I am going to have to start being a bit more firm about my lunch at work. As good as it is and as generous as they are, I do not want to be force-fed! I also still want to fit in my clothes when I go back to NYC, lol…

 

Pro: Sunshine and summertime

I have found my happy place here in Kampala—Kabira Country Club. A day pass costs 40,000 shillings (about $11) and it allows me to use the gym and the beautiful pool for the whole day! They also offer massages and have a salon on the premises, and their kitchen serves amazing food right to my chair by the pool!

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A delicious colorful salad by the pool for lunch yesterday at Kabira…my happy spot!

Pro/Con: Work

The pro is I love and admire my dedicated and professional team, and the work we are doing together to promote media freedom is extremely important. However, it’s been a tough week. I wrote an article in the Daily Monitor about a situation involving a radio station here. The Ugandan authorities then called me out personally in a reply published in New Vision that also denied several facts I had included in my write-up that had been vetted by my team. I know my team faces this type of opposition on a regular basis, but it was a first for me. It was a reminder that this work is not easy.

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In addition, last week, I travelled to Masaka (the journey is described above) to participate in a UN human rights field training for journalists. Our UN officer did a fantastic job giving an overview of the background, development, and mechanisms of human rights law for the participants, as well as advising on practical ways to ensure truth in reporting when it comes to human rights violations.

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Working the registration table with D, my manager/”work mom”! Love this lady! ❤

However, a lively and contentious discussion arose when our UN officer stated that LGBT persons are entitled to the universal human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was very taken aback by the refusal of many members of the group to acknowledge that LGBT people are entitled to the same human rights that heterosexual people are entitled to, including the right to life, liberty and security of person regardless of sex or status as clearly laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whether or not a person agrees that same-sex marriage is a right, I was shocked that it was even a question that gay people should not enjoy the same universally recognized freedoms as everyone else simply because they are gay.

I had read about the obstacles that members of the LGBT community face here in Uganda, as this is the country that in 2013 tried to pass a law that would sentence gay people to the death penalty. The law was amended to give only a life sentence in prison (“only” is used ironically here) but was later overturned on a technicality. LGBT people still face a prison sentence in Uganda.

It shouldn’t matter whether or not you agree with the LGBT “lifestyle” for religious reasons–no one should die or be in danger for being gay.

The prejudice and misconceptions about the LGBT community became very apparent to me during this training as the discussion unfolded, and I shared my opposing views with the group. I will be perfectly honest—it was quite scary to do this in this setting, but I could not look my gay friends back in the US (and here for that matter) in the eye if I didn’t stand up for them when it mattered. I will be writing more about this at a later date.

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After a trying day at the conference, it was nice to enjoy a pick-up game of soccer with the team!

 

Pro: Dinner parties!

Tonight, Jill and I are hosting our new third roommate, our Airbnb hosts, and our local friend Nat and Jem for a dinner in our apartment! Therefore, it’s time to wrap up this post, as I’ve got to get to hosting 🙂 Until next time!

 

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Boda life

Lyrical Justice

On Tuesday, I got to go on my first road trip across Uganda—north to the town of Lira. It was a rollercoaster 36 hours, in more ways than one.

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My reason for travel was professional. My organization was representing a journalist in the town of Lira—we will call him “J”—who had been arrested one fateful evening just before the presidential election last year during the airing of his radio political talk show, along with four other politicians. J and his co-defendants had been kept on trial for 16 straight months without the state producing a single witness for the “crime” of alleged defacement of political posters. The irony is that J could not have been involved with the defacement as he was on the air during the time the act occurred. Nevertheless, he was relentlessly prosecuted as part of an effort to chill political dissent and freedom of expression. Our client made 12 consecutive appearances before the court over this period, and each time the court would adjourn and require his presence at the next hearing, presumably until the state could produce witnesses.

 

Our client’s rights were being violated under both Ugandan law (Article 28(1) of the Constitution) and international customary law (the right to a fair and speedy trial). So, my organization sent my colleague K, an attorney on staff who focuses on litigation, and me north to Lira to argue for the dismissal of the charges.

 

K and I set off on our journey from the central bus station of Kampala. We had two options for bus travel—the GaaGaa Coach and the Baby Coach. Both were public buses without air conditioner that cost 20,000 shillings one way (about $5), yet the GaaGaa coach was known to be slightly more comfortable and organized. Of course, we missed the GaaGaa coach by 5 minutes, so we booked our tickets on the infamous Baby Coach.

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We weren’t the only ones who wanted to ride GaaGaa

After sitting on the bus for about 1.5 hours as they changed tires and continued to load more customers in, we started down the road out of Kampala north toward Lira. K and I were pretty cramped on the Baby Coach, as the tiny “baby-sized” seats were covered in plastic and super sticky. But once the bus started rolling, the fresh air made the circumstances more manageable. In accordance with what I am coming to realize of “Africa time,” the 4 hour drive took about 7 hours.

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A typical roadside stop for snacks…we made about 20 of these

One thing we were not lacking on this road trip was snacks! My favorite part of the trips to and from Lira was when the bus would pull over and local vendors would swarm up to our windows, selling their goods. Sometimes, if they spotted me, I would hear “Muzungu! Muzungu!” from down below. (Muzungu is Luganda for white person haha). At almost every stop, I tried to buy something new…I enjoyed the gonja (roasted banana-like fruit), g-nuts, and cassava (a roasted root that tastes like mashed potato). I didn’t try the meat on a stick (still vegetarian these days!), roasted corn, jackfruit (because I don’t like it), or Rolex (chapatti—a Ugandan bread—with egg wrapped inside), but they were selling all of these things as well. They also sold live chickens to any interested buyers!

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Want to buy a live chicken from your bus window? No problem! 

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We also passed over the Nile and saw several baboons about halfway along the journey, and spotted many obusisira, or traditional hut-style houses along the way.

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Crossing the Nile River near Murchison Falls

 

Once we finally arrived in Lira, our mission came into sharper focus. We first met with J and gave him our assessment of the facts and the applicable law. “I pray to God this is over with tomorrow and I can be a free man again,” he explained. It was clear the case had taken a toll on J physically and emotionally, as he seemed very tired and worn down.

 

Given the political nature of our case, our client warned us that he thought we were being “tracked” (this was later confirmed from sources both in Lira and Kampala), and he advised a certain secure hotel for K and me to spend the night. He led us to a small gated hotel just off a dirt road on the edge of town. While this was supposed to be the “safe” hotel, I instantly felt sketched out by this place. Trusting my feminine instincts, I discreetly asked K if we could keep looking, and he agreed.

 

We then asked if we could stay at the M Hotel, which looked much newer, cleaner, and more secure, but this immediately alarmed our clients. “This place is not safe and there have been many kidnappings here,” they stated. However, after visiting, I for some reason felt way safer in this place than the last place—it was much more well-lit and the staff seemed trustworthy. After finding his cousin was on security detail that night, our client finally acquiesced to allowing us to spend the night here, and allowed me to settle into my room only after thoroughly checking it for wiretaps and working locks. Even though my room “checked out,” I slept with the chair under the doorknob just in case as I was thoroughly freaked out. And it takes a lot to freak me out! Also, it made me feel better knowing K was just 2 doors down. I was so relieved to see we both survived the night to attend the trial the next day!

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The next morning, we arrived at the courthouse and met our client J, his brother, and his four co-defendants. Even though we were charged with defending J, K agreed to represent the other four at the request of the magistrate, as he preferred to keep the matters grouped together. Because K is a legal champ, he agreed. (Some judges are called “magistrate” here). We then proceeded to wait outside for 2.5 hours with all other defendants before we were called by the attendant into the chambers.

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Before our hearing, full of nerves and anticipation

We spent the time chatting about the case and life in general, and it passed surprisingly fast. I was particularly taken aback by the arrival of the 30 or so male inmates from the jail down the road. They arrived on foot, escorted by prison guards and handcuffed to one another. They then knelt on their knees before the 20 ft x 20 ft cinderblock “holding cell” for about 30 minutes, before they were allowed in.

 

Once inside the cell, the sound of voices drifted beyond the cinderblocks, harmonizing together to form a song in a language I couldn’t understand, but understood all the same.

 

“They sing to give themselves hope,” K explained to me.

 

Finally, it was our time to go before the magistrate. As we entered the chambers, the magistrate immediately looked to me. There is no doubt I stood out, as I was the only muzungu around and also one of very few women present on the premises.

 

“Are you with CNN or BBC?” he asked me. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or serious. I later found out he was serious.

 

“Neither, your honor,” I replied. “I am a law student at New York University, and am an intern with K this summer.”

 

“I see,” he replied. “You will see… we apply the law here in Uganda.”

 

“Yes, your honor,” I replied. But secretly, I wasn’t sure yet.

 

K opened with a clear and concise argument—this case had dragged on for 16 months, and our clients’ rights to a fair and speedy trial had been violated. This right is not only given in the Ugandan constitution and in international law, but is a bedrock of democracy. K argued for dismissal of the charges under the Magistrates Court Act Cap 16, Section 119(1) (want of prosecution). After a short response from the prosecution, the magistrate issued his ruling in favor of the defendants. Tears sprang into my eyes as I looked over at J and saw his eyes filling with tears as well. He is now free of the burden of being prosecuted for no reason, and can return to his family in a nearby village to rest and recover from the trauma.

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K and me giving J a high five! 

After some congratulatory high-fives and hugs, K and I jumped on some boda bodas to pick up our bags from the hotel, and then to board the bus back to Kampala. We were lucky to book the GaaGaa coach this time around! We had lunch with one defendant at the Divine Mercy café—matoke, dried fish, and rice—before boarding the bus for the 4 hour (lol…7 hour) journey back to Kampala.

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As the bus passed back through the beautiful rural countryside, I felt truly grateful that justice had been delivered for J and the four other men that day. However, I couldn’t help dwelling on the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” and feeling like a part of J will never be healed after being taken, beaten, imprisoned, and relentlessly prosecuted for expressing his political beliefs and performing his job as a journalist. I think the irony is that the more a government tries to suppress the freedom of expression, the louder those voices will rise from behind whatever temporary walls are places around them—much like the prisoners in the holding cell at the Lira court, singing their songs of pain and hope, reality and dreams of a better world.

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Travel and the “P” Word

Jambo from Kampala! I can’t tell you how excited and amazed I am to be continuing a second summer of blogging. At this point last summer, I was in Southeast Asia and had no idea what the following year, much less the following summer, held for me. I feel very fortunate to be living in Uganda for the next 10 weeks after finishing my first year in law school, and to have the opportunity to pursue my academic interests while exploring another corner of the world.

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Getting my own wifi hotspot in Uganda for the summer…a beautiful moment! 
After a bit of self-reflection, I realize my blog posts from last summer were a bit on the fluffy and introspective side. Don’t get me wrong—that’s not a bad side to be on! I greatly enjoy being fluffy and introspective as a favorite pastime, and don’t worry—there will be plenty of those posts this summer. 🙂  However, after traveling for exactly one day in Egypt, I was confronted (actually, more like slapped in the face…) by a serious issue—the issue of travel privilege.

 

I actually hesitate to use the term “privilege”—I feel it carries such a heavy political connotation these days, and many people instantly tune out when they hear or read the word “privilege.” (I.e. asking someone to “check your privilege” will sometimes result in that person deciding he doesn’t have to listen to what you’re saying instead of continuing to engage…a hard reality for those who argue privilege is something that should be recognized and checked (myself included), but a reality nonetheless).

 

But I have to use the term privilege here, because it precisely describes my situation and the situation of millions of other Americans. Any American can spin a globe, put her finger down, say “I’m travelling here!” and make it happen. (This is apart and separate from financial ability to travel, which I’ve discussed in a previous post, and will revisit again in a later post this summer). It’s humbling to admit the “point, pick, and go” strategy is more or less what I did when I planned my around-the-world trip last summer. What I failed to fully realize then, and what I realize more now, is not every person enjoys the right of freedom of movement and travel like Americans do.

 

I met and spoke with several Egyptians during my 10 hours in Cairo who made me realize how much of a problem this is. My guide for the day in Cairo was by far one of the best, smartest, and most genuinely kind guides I’ve ever met when traveling. I casually asked him if he had ever been to the USA. “No, it’s almost impossible to get a visa there for leisure travel if you’re from the Middle East,” he replied. And this policy predates Donald Trump.

 

I can get a visa instantly to his country upon arrival, but he can’t do the same for my country. How do I get this very benefit that he is denied simply due to our differing national origins? I happened to be born in the USA, and he happened to be born in Egypt, and yet this luck of the draw dictates the destinations on this planet where he and I are each free to travel.  I am no more deserving than he is of the benefits that come from traveling for personal pleasure and learning, yet I face far fewer barriers in far fewer countries than others face. This is example #1 of the definition of travel privilege.

 

Another privilege? Strength of currency. As Americans, we enjoy a relatively strong US dollar. While we may complain how “expensive” it is for us to travel to Europe or the UK, the truth is we can afford to travel pretty much anywhere when it comes to currency exchange rates. However, Egypt has seen its currency fall from 7 EGP to 1 USD to 18 EGP to 1 USD over the last decade. Not only is this prohibitive to leisure travel, but it’s prohibitive to parents being able to put food on the table for their families. A currency decline of this magnitude, coupled with the decline of a major industry (in the case of Egypt, tourism) means it’s harder for many families to make ends meet, and more kids are going hungry. I’ve met others over the years from different countries (including South Africa, Hungary, and Thailand) who have told me how the strength of the US dollar make it nearly impossible for them to visit the US. Meanwhile, Americans who choose to travel at all do so and complain about currency exchange rates. Shame on us.

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Cairo, Egypt
What about immigration? Trump only opposes illegal immigrants, right? Well, think of the scenarios I just described above. Many families who want to leave everything they have ever known and try to make a better life for themselves and their children in America must enter a lottery. That’s right—the US federal government still sets a quota for each country (this is 2017, not 1887) , and then each country draws numbers for who gets to leave. I had always known this was the case generally, yet I had no idea the impact that this policy ritual of a scheduled “lottery” with a hard cut-off number has on people’s daily lives.  My waiter in the Cairo airport told me the U.S. lottery for Egypt is next month—he is already counting down the days. He has a friend who “won” the lottery a few years ago, and was able to move to America. I would wager that most Americans are not even aware such lotteries still exist–I have to admit I didn’t know there was still an actual lottery–yet people like my waiter in Egypt literally count down to the day when these lottery drawings happen.

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It isn’t like all Egyptians are looking to immigrate permanently—in fact, most Egyptians I met have an immense amount of national pride, and were very hospitable, welcoming, excited to share their country, and not looking to leave anytime soon. Yet the fact is that the economic downturn and political instability have hit the country hard in recent years. Permanent immigration concerns aside, the ability to travel freely in the world remains severely restricted for many citizens of Egypt and other countries. Many simply want to visit the USA for the same reason many Americans would want to visit Egypt– to experience a different culture, learn a rich history, and take in the sites and stories for themselves.  Immigration and border control is one thing. But restricting travel visas completely? That’s a different issue entirely.

 

What can we Americans who value the freedom of movement and the benefits of travel do about it? As I alluded to above, once you realize how you’ve benefited from travel privilege, it’s hard not to feel some degree of guilt for the undeserved advantages you’ve received from a characteristic beyond your control (i.e. national origin). Yet there isn’t really anything you can do about your national origin. I think the first thing to do is maintain self-awareness of the travel privilege you experience, and then translate this into empathy for those you meet along your journeys. At the end of the day, we all share this earth together, and we are all equally curious to learn and explore. Next, work to translate this empathy into more humane visa and immigration policies through legislation and executive action on the federal level.

 

Privilege is when you don’t have to worry about something because it doesn’t affect you directly. But whatever “it” is always affects someone directly.  So let’s act now by being conscious of what other travelers are facing, and by building empathy and pushing for governmental action to make the world a more equitable place for all.

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A person’s ability to travel the world shouldn’t hinge simply on what passport he or she holds. 

 

Tel Aviv: The Old and the New

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The view from my hotel room ❤ 

Ezekiel 3:15: “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Aviv, that lived by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.”

Tel Aviv, meaning “hill of spring,” is the second largest metropolitan area in Israel, and encompasses the energy and future of the modern state of Israel. The “hill” represents the old, and the “spring” represents the new, and the Father of Zionism Theodor Herzl wrote about this metaphor in his book Altneuland. Tel Aviv is only 108 years old–brand new compared to the rest of the country.

Our trip began and ended in Tel Aviv, yet I was only truly able to appreciate what Tel Aviv symbolizes after our visit to Jerusalem. The energy of Tel Aviv represents the energy and optimism of the Israeli people, and moving forward into the future with hope. It is also a very fun city, and I throughly enjoyed it despite the sad fact my phone was stolen here on the last night (I am grateful I was able to at least recover my pictures!)

Here’s an overview of our last few days in Tel Aviv:

1- Talk with Gadi Ezra. Gadi is currently Legal Counsel for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, and he is an LLM alum from NYU (!) Gadi spoke with us about his experience serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the difficult decisions he faced while serving in Gaza in 2008. Gadi emphasized how moral obligations to humanity call for higher standards than those laid out by the Geneva Convention rules of armed conflict. After sharing several anecdotes and asking us to think critically and honestly about what we would have done in his shoes, Gadi asked us to 1-question everything,  2-fight the urge to become cynical, and 3- remain hopeful as we continue to learn and engage with these issues as law students and future lawyers.

2-  Visit to Independence Hall. Here, we were able to learn the story of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. On this day, the words of Theodor Herzl, the Father of the Zionist movement, played out– “If you will it, it is no dream.” We also listened to a recording of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (who ironically was Buddhist) declaring independence. Independence Hall is located in the first house in Tel Aviv which had been converted to an art gallery. Celebrations of independence were cut short the very next day, as the brand new state was invaded by its 5 Arab neighbors, marking the beginning of a perpetual state of war and unrest. Sadly, many Holocaust survivors died defending the new state.

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David Ben-Gurion

3- Beit Ambousa. In 1991, the state of Israel airlifted over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews who were in danger because of their faith from Africa to safety in Israel. Since that time, the Ethiopian Jews have formed a special part of communities within Israel. We were able to visit an Ethiopian Jewish community outside of Tel Aviv called Beit Ambousa, where we learned about the history of the Ethiopian Jews as well as their modern struggles for racial equality within Israel. My favorite part of this visit was 1-learning about how Judaism came to Ethiopia in the first place (a love affair between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba involving a series of riddles and a son named Menelik, who visited his father back in Jerusalem and returned to Ethiopia to rule) and 2-the delicious Ethiopian lunch we enjoyed inside the home of our gracious host, complete with dabo, teff, and injera.

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Dabo and roasted chickpeas on the table…Blessing our host as she roasts coffee beans
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Components of injera- teff, cabbage, lentil, potato. So delicious!

4-Graffiti tour of Tel Aviv. As a resident of Bushwick, I have developed an affinity for well-done graffiti, and Tel Aviv is rich with a modern graffiti scene. Below are some of my favorites from our walking tour:

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This graffiti is done in braille–those who can see don’t understand it, and those who can understand it can’t see it. So many layers of meaning…
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These cartoon figures represent Israeli and Palestinian brothers. They embrace each other out of optimism, yet their backs are turned to represent the conflict.

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This graffiti depicts a security camera depiction of the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It has remained in place without being painted over since 1995, a rarity in the graffiti world.
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“If I forget Jerusalem, it is because of New York”
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Every person in this mural died at the age of 27. (Being 27 myself, this was a bit unsettling…!). Each person also died of drug addictions fueled by depression, and the artist has placed an uncompleted version of himself at the end–signifying his own personal struggles yet alluding to the fact that he has found his way out of the darkness and does not belong in this group.
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Zim, our guide, explaining the message directed to us on the wall behind him. He explained there are “no hard feelings,” but Tel Avivians get annoyed with tourists in the same way New Yorkers get annoyed with tourists (haha).

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5- My favorite dinner of the entire trip was at Racha, a Georgian (the country not the state!) restaurant in Tel Aviv. The owner explained the tradition of the Georgian blessing to us, which we conducted as a group and involved our NYU leader Mitch drinking an entire horn of wine! She was so fun and hospitable! Dinner ended in a dance party!

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Sarah and me with Lili, the fabulous owner of Racha!

Just as the verse in Ezekiel describes, I was overwhelmed (in every sense) for 7 days by all Israel has to offer. With its vibrant energy and focus on the future, Tel Aviv was the perfect place to begin and end this “mas’a” (Hebrew for trek). I am so grateful to iTrek and our tireless student leaders Mitch and Hannah for allowing me and my fellow law students to experience and learn about the rich culture and history of Israel and Palestine. I am also so grateful for the friendships I am taking away from this trip, which I know will shape the rest of my law school experience in a positive way.

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Bhargavi, Shreya, and me with Doron our amazing guide on our last night…I will miss these good people!
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I learned an incredible amount from Daniel, an Israeli law student who served in the Gaza war and traveled with us over the week
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We visited the Israeli law firm Meitar, where we learned a good deal about private law practice in Israel. Imagine my surprise when I saw this photograph in the conference room…I met this exact same couple while in Hoi An, Vietnam, last summer! The world felt like such a small place to me in this moment.
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Independence Hall, Tel Aviv

Seeking to Understand the Palestinian Conflict

Our checkpoint on the way back to Jerusalem from Ramallah

“You should seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”

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Palestine. What do you think of when you read this name? Violence? A nation that has been shunned and forgotten by the modern world? Checkpoints and walls? Terror?

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Nothing stirs strong, visceral emotions and reactions from both sides quite like a discussion about the Palestinian conflict. Before I got off Facebook a few months ago, I would consistently see Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine opinions pop up on my newsfeed. And I would grow frustrated. We as Americans tend to be misinformed and underinformed about this conflict. One reason I wanted to visit Israel with NYU Law iTrek was to look at this issue for myself, with my own two eyes, and further understand before I sought to be understood.


After spending a day visiting Ramallah in the West Bank and meeting with Palestinian Authority leaders and some locals, I understand a little more about this complex issue.

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But I now realize I’ll never fully understand.


Early Wednesday morning, we loaded our bus for the drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah. We arrived in the West Bank after passing through the checkpoint. My first impression–entering the West Bank definitely felt like leaving Israel. Palestinian flags and Arabic replaced Israeli flags and Hebrew. Our first stop was at eZone, a tech startup space supporting local entrepreneurs in Ramallah. Our local Palestinian speaker shared with us about how the tech industry is working to lower the 42% unemployment rate in the West Bank.

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I found out after the talk he had spent a year as an exchange student in Alabama! In his words, “I couldn’t stand it there at first, but then I grew to love it. I go back to visit every year now!”

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So why is the unemployment rate so high in the West Bank? And what is the West Bank exactly? The West Bank is the area of land just west of the Jordan River that was not included in Israel’s original 1948 boundaries, but has been occupied since Israel seized the land from Jordan in 1967.

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Israel occupies this land inhabited by Muslim Arabs known as Palestinians, and these Palestinians are literally trapped in their homeland. They must pass through checkpoints to leave the area, and have no voting rights. Not exactly good for attracting business and industry for economic development…

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In 1993, the Oslo agreement divided the West Bank into 3 parts- A territory (cities like Ramallah governed by the Palestinian Authority), B territory (areas outside cities that are governed by both PA and Israel), and C territory (all other areas outside the cities governed by Israel).

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This means a map of the West Bank looks like Swiss cheese, with the holes being Palestine and the cheese being Israel. Despite the agreement, the land continues to be disputed. To add to the tension, Israelis continue to move into the West Bank to establish “settlements,” pushing the Palestinians further into their “holes” and often confiscating property of Palestinians in the process. Since Oslo, the number of settlers has increased from 160,000 to 670,000.


Some settlements have been ruled illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court and have been condemned by the UN, yet some Israelis continue to move in for three key reasons–1) to claim the West Bank as part of the land promised to them by God, 2) to make a two-state solution less realistic by making the political map even more splotchy and pushing Palestinians away, and 3)to take advantage of the cheaper real estate prices and close proximity to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.



We met with 3 high-ranking members of the Palestinian Authority, who shared their frustration with the settlements and on not being able to reach a two-state solution with Netanyahu. They lamented that Israel does not recognize the rights of Palestinians, and regard them as sub-human. One official told a story about an Israeli fighter pilot who was asked, “What did it feel like when you dropped a one ton bomb on the Palestinians?” His reply was, “The wing shook a little.”

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The Fateh party we met with is not to be confused with Hamas, the terrorist group elected to power in the Gaza Strip, which is another disputed Palestinian territory located in a different part of Israel. Hamas uses the anger and frustration many Palestinians feel about their sub-citizen status to fuel hatred and violence.


The leaders today shared that they were happy we could visit for ourselves and see that they were not the violent, irrational figures the media so often portrays. The people I met today seem concerned about protecting their people’s human rights and building better opportunities for Palestinian upward mobility in their homeland.

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Yet several of the locals we spoke with did not hold back in sharing their frustrations with the Palestinian Authority and its failures to adequately represent their interests. Corruption also continues to be an issue within the Palestinian government, adding to the perfect storm of Palestinian troubles.


The activist we met with over lunch shared her frustrations with us as well. A Palestinian cannot leave the territory without going through a checkpoint and risking losing their citizenship if they travel for too long or if their travel is not pre-approved. (“Every day I leave my house, I have to waste 45 minutes at a checkpoint, putting my life in the hands of an 18 year old soldier,” she lamented.) Palestinians have no voting rights, and the Israeli army is a frequent presence throughout all areas of the territory. Yet this activist said maintaining optimism is her primary tool to stay strong.

There is no easy solution.

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After the U.S.’s recent vote in the UN regarding the settlements (which was seen by many as not “standing with Israel”), Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel–under a single state solution–could either be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both. I was horrified to see on Facebook that someone I know called him and all Obama voters “anti-Semitic” for this rational comment. Here are my takeaways and why I agree with Kerry’s statement.

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Israel was formed to be a Jewish state. Considering the tragic and horrible history of the Jewish people, I believe it is appropriate and justified for the Jewish people to have a homeland where they will always be welcome. This is the beautiful country of Israel.

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But Israel is not now truly democratic– it rules the Palestinian people, yet does not give them voting rights. If Israel gives the Palestinians voting rights, then Israel will not be a Jewish state anymore, as Arab Muslim voters would then dilute and possibly outnumber Jewish voters. This is a catch-22, and rhetoric that typecasts those who try look at the issue realistically and rationally is extremely harmful.


I’m not ready to seek to be understood yet, as I’m still seeking to understand. But today, I did realize you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Every people has a right to self-determination. Every human has a right to freedom of movement and control of their own property.

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I hope a peaceful solution can be reached. In the meantime, I’m holding on to hope that we all learn to treat each other better here on earth.

Day #6 of “American Carnage” 

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Washington Square Park, NYC, January 25, 2017

The U.S. Constitution is bigger than your (unfounded) “fear.” Or so I hope.

Almost a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, I am beginning to realize this is worse than I feared. I was devastated following Trump’s electoral college victory, just like all the other “liberal snowflakes” out there. I randomly cried every day for about a week, and I got out and joined protest marches and rallies twice in the week following the election. Although the pain and fear of Trump’s plans for the U.S. were real, I found myself quietly hoping as I listened to the words so many moderates spoke that week.

“It’s not going to be as bad as everyone thinks.”

“He just said all that stuff to get elected…he’s not serious.”

“Give him a chance before you judge him.”

“He hasn’t even taken office yet, so why is everyone freaking out?”

While I thought his campaign rhetoric (particularly promises to build a giant wall along the Mexican border and ban Muslims and refugees from traveling into the country) was sickening, I found myself praying they were just empty (disgusting) promises made on the campaign trail to garner votes. The words enough were awful, but actions would be even worse. (There’s also the fact people actually voted for this, which I will address later…)

Now, it’s Wednesday, January 25, and Trump has already issued an executive order to boost a “Deportation force” that will tear families apart, and to begin construction on a wall between our country and our neighbor, Mexico. He has censored scientists who were using social media to communicate facts, and has continued to promote the unsubstantiated claim that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud. His administration is commanding us to “reject the evidence of our eyes and ears” (George Orwell, 1984), and pushing “alternative facts” in its place. He has unilaterally acted to deny healthcare to millions of Americans and deny women’s health services to millions of women. Tomorrow, it is reported he will announce an executive order to ban the entry of Muslims and other refugees in danger of losing their lives into the U.S. It is also reported that he will soon act to withdraw a substantial amount of U.S. support from the United Nations, an international body that came into existence following a horrific world war for the purpose of promoting international cooperation and peace. We haven’t had a world war since.

We are less than a week in, and his actions are “unpresidented.”

I have to admit that I am a fan of executive action when it benefits human beings and the greater good—examples include the Emancipation Proclamation (Lincoln) and DACA (Obama). However, now we are seeing what happens when the wrong person has the power to take executive action. It’s truly horrifying.

I still find myself grappling with the same question I found myself asking in the days immediately following the election—how can people I love and care about condone the beliefs and political platform that embolden actual racist, misogynist xenophobes who are out there? It has only gotten worse. Why can’t America, a nation built by immigrants, live up to the standard set forth by one of our earliest founders and leaders John Winthrop—“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”? Why are so many Americans so willing to blame people of a different racial, ethnic, or religious background for our country’s problems? Which came first, the hate or the fear?

During a recent visit to Mexico City, I had the chance to get to know a blond-haired, blue-eyed, collared shirt-wearing Mexican guy (not that any of this is important, but I am trying to paint a picture). This guy often travels to the U.S. for work trips, golf trips, and to visit his sister (who legally resides in New York City). He is aware of how shocked Americans always are to learn he is “Mexican,” and found it humorous, until recently. He nows sees it as evidence of the deeply ingrained racial prejudices and stereotypes held by many. He also finds Trump’s rhetoric deeply offensive and dangerous, and he and others plan to boycott our country because of the pervasive hate that has found its way into our White House.

The bigotry perpetuated by so many Americans, which has found a voice and platform in Trump, is unacceptable. Our country is now being boycotted by other nations because of human rights issues. We need to wake up and stand up.

I’ve also reached an unlikely conclusion in the last few days—Trump is a unifier, but not in the way he purports to be. I have been thinking a lot about the Women’s Marches that took place around the nation and world this past weekend. While I did not participate for personal reasons, I found the pictures of marches that took place everywhere from NYC to Washington DC to Jackson, Mississippi, to Nashville to San Francisco to Paris to Bangkok to Nairobi inspiring and humbling, but also unsettling. Where were WE (white women) during the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across the nation over the last few years, many of which faced heavily militarized police resistance? Where were we during the recent DAPL protests, and all the subsequent demonstrations against the government’s rape and conquest of Native American land?

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I didn’t take this picture, but it spoke volumes to me

I attended a rally tonight in Washington Square Park to stand in solidarity with Muslims and Latinos in light of the Mexican wall order and impending Muslim travel ban executive order. I looked around, and many of the protesters were white like me. While I am so happy to see unity across race, socioeconomic status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and ethnic lines, I am still deeply troubled because in a way, some of us are too late. I am humbled and afraid. img_2121

I am trying to maintain faith in our constitutional institutions, but the damage is already done. This bigotry was here long before Trump took office—he just gave it a vehicle and a voice. I take personal responsibility for not acting and speaking sooner in my own personal life. Many people (aka white women) feel threatened for the first times in their lives, and that’s a sign of privilege. So many others have been afraid of losing their hard-won civil rights for a long time. Yet Trump’s policies are still a reason to fight back. I hope the marches on Saturday were just a start. While I disagree with some of the rhetoric coming from the resistance movement (particularly from celebrities), we need to stay vigilant, uncomfortable, and humble. It’s just getting started.

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A Race to the Top, or to the Bottom Line? My Concerns with President-Elect Trump’s Secretary of Education Appointment

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I have to admit, President-elect Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos to the Secretary of Education post was his first that didn’t make my jaw drop in disbelief instantly. I decided to keep an open mind and research her background before making up my mind, even as I immediately started seeing pro-DeVos and anti-DeVos posts in my Facebook “echo chamber.” After all, as President Obama said, if President-elect Trump succeeds, our country succeeds. So, between studying for finals and seeing friends and catching up with family over the last few days, I began my research…

She is a big Republican donor with 0 experience in a public school or in education period. Still trying to keep an open mind, I kept researching…

President-elect Trump said that Ms. DeVos will work to “reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.” I am all for this, but what does this mean, exactly?

Since my time in Teach For America, I have had a love-hate relationship with charter schools. During my time in TFA, I had the privilege of teaching at one of the oldest public high schools in Memphis (Melrose High School in Orange Mound). I also had several friends who taught in charter schools—some of which were were providing great learning environments and opportunities for their students, and others which were poorly run and were failing at achieving this vision. Charter schools are unique animals—they are publicly-funded, privately-managed schools that are free from the directives and oversight of the local school district. Many times, this independence and freedom equates to a greater latitude for visionary school leaders to run schools that outperform their public counterparts (shout out to Soulsville Charter School, Libertas Academy, Freedom Prep Memphis,  Memphis Grizzlies Prep, Veritas Memphis, and the many other amazing charter schools) . Other times, this independence and freedom leads to schools that perform at a lower rate of achievement than their public counterparts, with minimal course-correction directives from the district. screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-9-33-32-pm

While in TFA, and since then, I have bristled at the idea that charter schools are the end-all, be-all solution to the grave issue of education inequity in our country. Partially because I saw what some of my friends saw and dealt with at poorly run charter schools, and partially because I was teaching at a public school whose students deserved the very best in funding and policy from our government as well.

Ms. DeVos is a proponent of charter schools as well as “school choice” via vouchers. What is wrong with giving vouchers to families who may not be able to afford private school tuition to be able to send their children to higher performing private schools in the area? Here’s what’s wrong—no matter how much “school choice” our government finances, there will be students left behind in increasingly failing public schools because of this measure. Money will go to vouchers instead of improving our existing public schools. Not every student will get a voucher, and even if many do, our public schools, and the students remaining there, will be left even farther behind, and the inequity will grow even deeper and more serious. We can’t afford to go down this path for 4 years—children’s livelihoods and opportunities are at stake.

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On an end-of-semester bowling field trip with some Honors Students!

It is true that in the 8 years of President Obama’s leadership, our country has not solved this grave issue of educational inequity. I was able to teach during a time when Tennessee was one of President Obama’s Race to the Top recipients, which saw mixed results—positive outcomes (some increased student achievement) as well as negative outcomes (increased bureaucracy and mandates on over-worked teachers). All-in-all, I thought it was a step in the right direction for the federal government, even if it didn’t solve all the many, complicated issues of educational inequity overnight. And as much as I love TFA and its vision as an organization to strive for the realization that “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education,” I hope and pray, and will continue to work toward, making sure TFA goes out of business.

What do I mean? I mean I don’t think our country should need TFA— we need to continue to address improving our public schools ASAP to meet TFA’s vision, which I think encompasses what we all want for all of our children as Americans. [I personally think the first steps towards this are 1) addressing issues of systemic poverty that directly affect low-income students (healthcare, access to food, safe neighborhoods, economic opportunities for families) 2) raising teacher pay and increasing benefits for teachers through classroom resources and professional development, 3) adopting higher national standards for curriculum (Common Core or an improved curriculum), and 4) limiting class sizes and/or decreasing the teacher/student ratio in every classroom (I regularly had 30+ students in a classroom all by myself, and all of these students were on various learning levels.) But that’s for another blog…]

For today, I hope Ms. DeVos focuses on improving our current public schools instead of trying to throw money at the problem through vouchers and increasing the presence of charter schools, some of which may work but others of which will be free to fail at their leisure because of a lack of local school district oversight, but at deep costs to their students. We should not take our focus off improving the educational outcomes and life trajectories for our current and future public school students.

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Is the Electoral College the OG Trump University?

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Later this month, our President-Elect is scheduled to go on trial in federal civil court for alleged fraud for his now-defunct Trump University real estate education program (this is unprecedented in American history). Which has gotten me to think about other universities and colleges that have failed those they were established to serve.

The Electoral College was established as part of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and is spelled out in Article II. The College is composed of Electors that are assigned to each state based on the number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives each state sends to Washington. For example, Alabama has 2 Senators and 7 Representatives, so it gets 9 electors. New York, a state with a higher population, has 2 Senators and 27 Representatives, so it gets 29 electors. Traditionally, a candidate that wins the popular vote of a single state will be awarded all of the electors of that state. Trump won 290 electoral votes and Clinton won 228 votes, so he won the election.

But Clinton won the popular vote by between an estimated 200,000 and 400,000 votes. This is the fifth time in history that this fluke has happened—the other 4 times were when Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote in 1888, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote in 1876, and Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824 (he actually also won the electoral vote, but Congress chose John Quincy Adams under the 12th Amendment provision after Jackson failed to secure the majority of electoral votes).

Even Donald Trump has called the Electoral College a “disaster,” in a way only he can—via Twitter—in November 2012.

Our Constitution was drafted to “form a more perfect Union” and “establish justice.” Which is why I have been feeling frustrated and hopeful that Hillary won the popular vote on Tuesday. (Hopeful, because it means over half of Americans do not condone Trump and what he stands for).

I am frustrated because my vote didn’t count. It is my civic duty to vote, and I did it, but the Democratic votes in blue New York state basically didn’t count once the count passed that critical number needed for Hillary to secure the state’s electors. All other votes were basically extra fat for the trimming.

This also means Democratic votes in heavily red states like Alabama and Mississippi didn’t count towards anything either.

If the election had come out the other way—if Hillary had won the electoral college and not the popular vote—I would absolutely understand the justified frustration from Trump voters. We are all Americans and we all deserve to have our vote count toward the outcome.

How can we preach that people need to get out to vote, when only the votes of those in “swing states” like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida tend to decide elections? Where is the incentive to vote when your state historically leans toward one party or the other?

As a baby lawyer (I am just in my first semester of 1L), I know I don’t know everything, and I know part of my professional duty is to defend our Constitution. But it’s not a perfect document and it’s amenable to change. The Constitution also said black slaves counted as 3/5 of a person, and we all know that black people are 5/5 of a person, just like everyone else. We also currently have 27 amendments to the Constitution, meaning it can change.

One defense of the Electoral College is that it protects the democracy from itself. In Federalist Paper 10, James Madison wrote about protecting the democracy against “factions” and the lurking issue of sectionalism in the new republic. But we live in a different time. While there are still the concerns of sectionalism, our nation fought a war and the outcome was that we remained together as one nation. Our populace is literate and online. We have access to information on the Internet like never before. I have faith American voters can make decisions for themselves.

One argument in favor of a modern Electoral College is the chaos that could result if the popular vote were very, very close. Recounts of individual ballots could take a lot of time and resources. But when has convenience ever been a valid reason to deny justice? Perhaps a new popular vote provision could have a “too close to call” backstop that allows electors or Congress to decide an election if the popular vote is close by a certain percentage?

I believe the Electoral College disenfranchises voters. Before this election, there was much worry and discussion about a “rigged” election and voter intimidation on both sides. But I think the disenfranchisement has been baked into our law for a while.

I know this view won’t be popular with some of my liberal friends, but I think we need to honor the Constitution as it stands today and accept that Trump won the electors in this election. But I do think we need to have a serious discussion and re-examination of this outdated institution. And I don’t want to forget about this issue until it pops up again in 4 years. I will be writing to my Senators and Representative about this over the weekend, and I hope you consider doing the same. No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, it could be you who loses by a fluke in the next election. Yes, the Electoral College is part of the compromises that allowed our country to be formed over 200 years ago over heated sectionalist debates. But we are a different country today. One goal of our Constitution is to establish justice, so one person should equal one vote.

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