The Next Generation of Voters

Celebrating 100 years of Suffrage with new voters.

In there own words:

Abbey Priftis

I am voting this November for two supreme court seats, for my reproductive rights, for more equality, for my sister, and for every other woman out there. 

I grew up in a house where I was told that I could do and be anything I wanted as long as I stayed myself and worked hard. So imagine my surprise when I got older and began to see a much different reality. One where some people believe that because I am a woman my opportunities are limited. That I shouldn’t want to sit at the table with the men. That I should know my place and stay there. This is not the environment I want to live in or have us raise our future daughters in. I am voting this November for two supreme court seats, for my reproductive rights, for more equality, for my sister, and for every other woman out there. 

Jade Hu

We are voting to shape our future. We are voting to make change. We are voting for equality.

Voting is important to me because it is my opinion, my choice, and my voice that impacts not only the country’s future but my future as well. With voting we have to power to shape society and future generations. It is an important right to have and I vote in order to acknowledge that I get to be in a country where the people have the power to vote and use their voice. Furthermore, if you choose not to vote you are not allowed to complain so if you like to pick fights over the dinner table or like to have respectful and peaceful political conversations with people that have absolutely absurd values as much as I do…why not register and vote? I know I am tired of seeing a President with a bad spray tan and political views that degrade women and people of color and making decisions that negatively impact my future and the future of this country. We the people get to decide who represents the United States and elect officials that will help run this country. We are voting to shape our future. We are voting to make change. We are voting for equality. That is why I choose to vote and whoever reads this should too.

Grace Crangle

Now more than ever, each vote matters. I’m voting because I think it’s super important to be engaged and involved in our government in any way possible.

This upcoming election is not only going to be my first time voting in a presidential election, but is arguably one of the most important elections I’ll ever vote in during my lifetime. Due to such trying times- amidst a pandemic, a recession, a civil rights crisis, etc- there is a lot at stake. Now more than ever, each vote matters. I’m voting because I think it’s super important to be engaged and involved in our government in any way possible. From the local level all the way up to the federal level, the officials that I’m voting for will ultimately represent me, so it’s important that I have my say. I’m voting for the candidate whose policies and ideals best align with mine, and who I believe will do their best to unite such a divided country.

Halle Boyton

The people who tell you your vote doesn’t matter are scared of the power you hold with a ballot and a pen.

Women don’t have a choice on whether or not we’re involved in politics. Policy has and continues to directly affect our daily lives, regardless of whether or not you vote.  So many people are trying to control us by deciding what medicines we can take, what medical procedures we can have without permission from a husband or father, how much money we can make, and who’s stories should be believed. Voting is our opportunity to take control. And if you’re a person of color, LGBTQ+, an immigrant, low income, not Christian, or under-served in any way, you’re voting to survive. The people who tell you your vote doesn’t matter are scared of the power you hold with a ballot and a pen. This election, I’m voting to take one step closer to living in a world where I don’t have to put pepper spray on my college pack list. I may be settling on a candidate, but one step forward is better than a million steps back. 

Lexi Hoepfl

I vote for women’s rights, for the Black Lives Matter movement, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for safety during this pandemic.

In 2016, America elected a President who is racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic. With this horrible man in office, many of his supporters have concluded that if President Trump can openly be every -ist and -phobic in the book then, they can as well. We have moved backwards in the past four years, from states putting unnecessary restrictions on a woman’s right to choose what she can and cannot do to her body. To police unlawfully killing many black citizens and systemic racism continuing to exist today. Then to a president who did not take a global pandemic seriously costing hundreds of thousands of American lives. To removing protections for the LGBTQ+ community by allowing medical professionals to deny treatment based on their beliefs. The list continues. 

This is why we need change and this is why it is important for me to vote. I vote for women’s rights, for the Black Lives Matter movement, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for safety during this pandemic. This will be my first presidential election that I am able to vote in and on August 18th it will be the 100th anniversary since the 19th amendment was ratified, giving me the right to vote as a woman. I am proud to be voting for a candidate who will address the issues listed above and also to be the first to pick a woman of color for vice president!

Saba Khan

I am voting for humanity this election. For love. For compassion. For us.

Voting is important to me because unlike so many people, I have the opportunity to bring change. I am using my vote to amplify and bring light to those voices that are unheard. To me, I am not just voting for myself – I am voting for children held in concentration camps and Black lives that are lost every single day. I am voting for those who fear an education because of school shootings and for girls who can’t step forward without being shamed. I am voting for humanity this election. For love. For compassion. For us. This election will determine the America we wish to create for those ahead. I am voting for an America that I will be proud of; an America where every human being is seen as one.

Kylie Goin

I’m voting for peoples voice that aren’t always heard in our governments discussions and who are hurt by the systemically biased and hurtful systems we still have in many of our societal and political structures today.

This will be my first presidential election, I voted in the Democratic primaries but this is my first presidential election outside of that. My parents have always emphasized the importance of voting for me even at a young age, with my dad having served two tours in the Middle East for the Marines and my mom having been an army brat and trained for the military. They both understood that voting was a birth right but one we have had to fight for and they wanted me to know how important it is to vote. I really want to make my voice heard and feel like one of the best and most practical ways to do that is to vote for a candidate I care about or one I feel like will actually make a difference. That’s why I’m voting for someone I feel like will help people often hurt by our government. I’m voting for peoples voice that aren’t always heard in our governments discussions and who are hurt by the systemically biased and hurtful systems we still have in many of our societal and political structures today. I’m voting for myself but for others who need a president who cares about their well being and happiness. 

Trish Grace

I am ready to vote for equal rights, the women around me, and environmental change.

The first time I voted I was so excited. After hearing Ms. Berg talk about the importance of participating in all elections I made it my goal to do so. I was so nervous that I ended up filling my ballot out wrong and had to ask for another one. This year’s presidential election is possibly one of the most important ones I will vote in during my lifetime. I am ready to vote for equal rights, the women around me, and environmental change.

Editor’s Note: These are all former students and some of my favorite people on the planet. They give me hope. I vote for them.

The Wind River Candidate

Lynnette Grey Bull: A voice Congress needs.

By Jessica Berg

On Tuesday, a primary election for the sole congressional seat in Wyoming will take place. The current seat is held by Republican Liz Cheney who does face a primary challenger in her party, but the more interesting primary race comes on the Democratic ticket which includes candidate Lynnette Grey Bull.

In early July, Lynnette Grey Bull announced her run for congress. She is a Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Northern Arapaho from the Wind River Indian Reservation. If elected, she would be the first Native American Representative from Wyoming.

Image from Lynnette Grey Bull for Congress Facebook Page

With many heated primaries and races happening across the nation, I will admit that Wyoming wasn’t exactly on my radar until I had the chance to hear Ms. Grey Bull speak as a part of Loudoun County NOW’s speaker series (editorial disclosure, I am Vice President of Loudoun County NOW).

President of LC NOW, Barb Jones, met Lynnette at the Rose Bowl Parade in January, back before everyone was under quarantine, and immediately recognized something in Lynnette Grey Bull. Barb knew she had to reach out and introduce Lynnette to the rest of us here in Virginia because we, too, would be inspired by this candidate.

And here is what I want you to know about her, about this woman, about Lynnette Grey Bull: she is a voice. A voice that is needed, not just in Congress, but in the conversations that are taking place in America.

Think about it, she is running a race in Wyoming, yet she took the time out of her schedule to talk to grassroots organizers in Virginia. It isn’t because we are her constituents and she is vying for our vote. No. It is because the issues she cares about, the issues that affect her as a woman, a Native Woman, and a citizen of a reservation and of this nation, are issues that are being silenced and ignored.

From the Instagram of Barb Jones

“The statistics that hang over my head are these: I am among the most stalked, raped, murdered, sexually assaulted, and abused of any women in any ethnic group, and I am among those who suffer domestic violence 50 times higher than the national average. I share this reality with you not to elicit guilt or unease, but so that you will realize that I understand what this moment in America is. For some 400 years, people of color in this country have been crying, ‘I can’t breathe,” Lynnette Grey Bull stated in her announcement speech. She continuously reiterates these points again and again because for far too long people have not been paying attention.

Lynnette Grey Bull’s platform has been her passion throughout her life. While working to eradicate human trafficking, Lynnette ‘noticed there was no organization focused on Native American victims,’ so she started Not Our Native Daughters. The organization was ‘created for the education and awareness of the missing, exploited, murdered Indigenous Women & Children.’

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a strong supporter of MMIW legislation

“I have a personal passion working with the Native American communities, on education, training and offering victim services of sexual assault… I have served the women’s unit as counselor in the mentorship program, to which continued upon their release – most of which – were victims of sex trafficking by various forms. Furthermore, surviving and overcoming the many obstacles of being a sexual assault victim myself – I have a personal passion for victims,” she states on her LinkedIn page.

“What good is our sovereignty, if there is no justice? We must return to the truth that our women and children are sacred.” 

Lynnette Grey Bull

Grey Bull also serves as Vice President of the Global Indigenous Council that states it’s founding premise to recognize, ‘that, in the current political climate, it is imperative that an indigenous advocacy organization exists that is free from federal political influence, and will instead hold federal government cabinet secretaries, agency secretaries, members of congress and corresponding parliamentary members accountable for their actions and policies…’

In her platform, Lynnette states, “The COVID-19 crisis has drawn into stark focus the systemic failure of federal policy and administration in Indian Country and glaringly exposed what indigenous people have known for generations… Indian Country needs a functional infrastructure! Every aspect of vital infrastructure is lacking in Indian Country and we must change this with bold initiatives, not more of the same incremental failures.”

From the Facebook page of Lynnette Grey Bull for Congress

Listening to Lynette Grey Bull speak, reading up on her bio and work, and understanding that her candidacy is not about ‘politics as usual’, rather it is about a need for a voice in a position to make Native Women a priority in America, I wish I could vote for her.

Her candidacy is about an invisible epidemic that far too many of us are at best ignorant of, and at worst have outright ignored. Her candidacy is an eye-opening check on the status quo who have been complacent about the quality of life for all women in this country. Her candidacy is one of truth and justice. Her candidacy is what Wyoming needs and what this country needs.

On her website, Lynnette Grey Bull states, “I seek this nomination to represent the Democratic Party not as a candidate for Native America, but as a proud Native American who aspires to give voice and serve all the people of Wyoming.”

Wyoming gets one congressional seat; I want to see Lynnette Grey Bull fill it, for the citizens of Wyoming, and for the Native Women and Daughters who are owed a voice.

For voting information in Wyoming, visit: https://www.vote411.org/wyoming

For voting information in your state, visit: https://votesaveamerica.com/

Generation Revolution

3 young leaders, 1 amendment, and the infinite power of youth.

By Jessica Berg

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

A Brief History of the ERA:

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party. Paul is one of the women who helped make the final and heroic push to get the 19th amendment ratified. In 1923 in Seneca Falls, New York, a poignant location, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment stating:

If we keep on this way they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Convention without being much further advanced in equal rights than we are…We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.

Alice Paul celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment

There was massive momentum for ratification of the ERA in the 70’s during second wave feminism, as state by state approved the amendment. But a well-organized and funded conservative revival halted the progress and the amendment fell 3 states short of the 38 needed for ratification.

Gloria Steinem helped lead the fight for the ERA, and still is.

Then, in 2017, Nevada ratified the amendment, followed by Illinois in 2018, and with the help of organizations like Generation Ratify backing pro-ERA candidates, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment in 2020. But now the amendment sits in limbo as the Trump administration refuses to lift the ratification deadline to have it officially added to the Constitution.

Rosie the Revolutionary

Rosie turned 13 on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated. She hopped on a bus in Georgia that was headed overnight to Washington DC. The next morning, she joined thousands of people for the 2017 Women’s March. That was her first foray into activism, and now, at the age of 16, she is running a national grassroots organization, GenERAtion Ratify.

Rosie Couture, Executive Director of GenERAtion Ratify

A self-proclaimed ‘political nerd, into policy and legislation,’ Rosie was shocked when she learned, in her government class, that the United States did not guarantee constitutional equality for women. Her wheels started spinning, thinking, “Wait, how is this not a thing? How do we not have this in our constitution? Why are people not talking about it?” Rosie was not alone in this thinking, and she decided to act.

Correcting the historical exclusion of women and people beyond the binary from our Constitution by mobilizing youth across the country to take action to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

GenERAtion Ratify

A Youth Led Movement

In July of 2019 ‘a few 15-year-old kids at a public library in Arlington, Virginia’ founded Generation Ratify whose ‘mission is to correct the historical exclusion of women and people beyond the binary from our Constitution by mobilizing youth across the country to take action to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and advance gender equality.’

The power of the young voices in this movement is both inspiring and purposeful. Rosie realized that in these moments of turmoil in our country young people want to get involved but are often ‘discounted because we can’t vote, so it is hard to catch the attention of lawmakers.’ There ‘wasn’t an outlet for young people,’ Rosie states, so GenERAtion Ratify was created to fill the void.

As any student of history, or anyone paying attention, knows young people have always been at the forefront of movements for change in this country. So, it is no surprise that what started as an organization in an Arlington library, now has chapters in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

The local and state chapters are a huge part of GenERAtion Ratify’s mission:

Our local chapters bring Generation Ratify’s mission to life in local communities – fighting to ratify the ERA and advancing gender equality legislation; running educational workshops to teach their peers of the ERA and modern-day gender inequities; fighting to elect pro-ERA candidates; and challenging social disparities between the genders through community based solutions.  

We are the leader of the free world; how do we not guarantee gender equality?

Sakhi

16-year-old Nikhitha Balijepalli is the State Director of one such chapter in Maryland. “On the national stage there aren’t many ways for people who can’t vote to share their voice,” Nikhitha says. She started paying more attention to politics and policy after taking an AP Government class in school where she, like Rosie, learned about the ERA. “I started reading up about the equal rights amendment and thinking this is something that needs to happen,” Nikhitha recalls. She discovered Generation Ratify on Instagram and applied, the rest is history in the making.

Nikhitha Balijepalli, Maryland State Director for GenERAtion Ratify

And recently, 14-year-old rising freshman, Sakhi Kulkarni, decided to start a local chapter in Holliston, Massachusetts after ‘doing some research on the ERA.’ Hearing about the ERA in an amendments discussion in her Civics class, Sakhi questioned, “How is this not a thing? We are the leader of the free world; how do we not guarantee gender equality?”

Sakhi Kulkarni, Holliston Chapter Leader for GenERAtion Ratify

She didn’t stop at questions, she took action. Sakhi believes it is ‘important to be involved because ultimately we are going to be the ones living with the decisions that are made by today’s leaders,’ and her local chapter is already 20 strong.

In listening to the passion and hope of these 3 young women, one can’t help but be inspired about the future. They are optimistic and confident the ERA will be added to the constitution, it is just a matter of when. But don’t worry, GenERAtion Ratify, Rosie, Nikhitha, and Sakhi aren’t going anywhere.

Even when the ERA is added to the constitution, Nikhitha states, “It is so intersectional we have to make sure this amendment benefits those who don’t identify on the gender scale who are non-binary; it is far reaching.”

More than the ERA

The work GenERAtion Ratify is doing is more far reaching than the ERA, as well.

“This is just the beginning,” Rosie states of her organization and the ERA. “We have to fight for what the ERA means and its implementation.”  One of these areas of focus is Period Poverty; “It is huge barrier to educational opportunity,” Rosie states, and the other chapters are joining this movement.

In Maryland, Nikhitha’s State Chapter was ‘lobbying for a state bill which would give free access to menstrual products in public schools,’ and in Massachusetts, Sakhi’s team is “planning a lobbying day for H.1959, which would increase access to menstrual products.” And Virginia saw the work of young activists, testifying in Richmond on behalf of students for menstrual equity, help enact a reduction in the ‘tampon tax’ in the state. Tangible change is happening because of young leaders.

Generation Ratify is rooted in our chapters. There is so much work that needs to be done on a community level.

The work these local and state chapters are doing to collectively push the country forward in terms of gender equity is powerful. “Generation Ratify is rooted in our chapters. There is so much work that needs to be done on a community level, changing the culture,” Nikhitha states when talking about menstrual equity. She believes, “It starts in schools with health curriculums and how we talk to girls about periods, and how we talk to boys about it, as well.”

After all, education is the path that led these young women to enter grassroots organizing, and political and social activism; they learned about an issue in school, they recognized an injustice, and a national movement took root.

They Can’t (Yet) but you Can

As for the ERA, right now the fate of the amendment is in the hands of the courts. The Commonwealth of Virginia, State of Illinois, and State of Nevada have filed against David S. Ferriero in his official capacity as Archivist of the United States. This lawsuit asserts that the deadline placed on the ERA for ratification should be removed, so what is there for the young leaders of Generation Ratify to do?

Well, besides school work, social lives, and activism, the young people of Generation Ratify have also become versed in law. They filed their own Amicus Brief. Amicus briefs are ‘legal documents that are filed in court cases by outside parties with a strong interest in the subject matter. These briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider.’  In their brief, Generation Ratify states:

Our ideas, concerns, and focus on inclusion and intersectionality is critical to fighting for an ERA that works for everyone. By filing this brief, we want to elevate the conversation, focus on the communities that need the amendment the most, and empower young people to carry this fight forward. We do this through focusing on the inequities that are seen in education and access to opportunities for young people as a result of their gender.

Everything is riding on this election

Nikhitha

These three young woman, and thousands like them across the country, fighting for equity in their own community are doing everything they possibly can, and they just ask that we vote. Though they are not old enough to participate in this election, they are encouraging everyone else, especially young voters, to cast their ballot.

“Everything is riding on this election,” Nikhita states. Her sentiments were echoed by Rosie and Sakhi who urge us to, “Make sure you know your state’s laws and when you need to vote.” Nikhitha continued, “4 million people, since 2016, have turned 18 and were of voting age for the 2018 midterms. We have to emphasize the importance of how much voting makes a difference.”

That is the power of the youth. The 4 million new voters who showed up in 2018 helped push progressive candidates and policies forward. These voters elected a record number of women to Congress; women who wore their Suffragist white and their ERA NOW pins to the State of the Union address in 2019.

Newly elected Representatives at the STOTU in 2019

This power is waiting to be harnessed in 2020, with even more young voters now of age. A shift in the occupation of the White House likely means the final steps of the ERA’s ratification process are a guarantee. A journey that began almost 100 years ago, could come to a close, and in the midst of this century long fight, a new movement has begun.

“What is so cool about our generation is that there are so many people that want to get involved, you just have to reach them,” Rosie states. Rosie is reaching them, thousands of them, and like Sakhi states, “Being involved in Generation Ratify has helped me understand what my priorities are, and I am going to continue.”

Rosie has created something that is pushing forward into the future, and about their generation, Nikhita adds, “We know a lot more than people credit us for. We can make change.”

Call to Action

Equity and Dignity. PERIOD.

A Conversation with Holly Seibold about her fight against the injustice of menstrual inequity.

By Jessica Berg

Holly Seibold was sitting in Virginia Beach, preparing for a presentation at a State Convention for all the Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs in the state. She had been invited by Fairfax County Sherriff Stacey Kincaid, one of only a handful of female sheriffs in Virginia, to talk about implementing a law requiring female inmates have access to feminine hygiene products without cost and without rationing.

Some jails were only allotting two pads for a female when she was on her period, which, as half the population knows, is ridiculous. Holly remembers that she was going to go with her normal presentation of ‘this is the law, you follow it’. But she changed course.

Holly Seiblod Founder and Executive Director of BRAWS winning 2017 Emerging Influential Leader of the Year 

She said, “At midnight I get this idea, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt maybe they have no clue what a period is about.” And it was true. Many of the men in the audience didn’t understand the amount of blood a woman loses on her period and why they would need more than two pads, or why they would need tampons, which commissaries were up-charging, for situations like the shower. And it is not just males that are lacking education about menstruation, females are as well.

So we are going to break down the issue and talk about the work women like Holly Seibold and her organization BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters) are doing to combat menstrual inequity, and what you can do.

Everything starts with Education:

Here is a brief rundown of terms:

  • Period Poverty is a term that refers to the lack of access to menstrual items, the lack of education in how to deal with menstruation, and the lack of hygienic facilities. Females most affected by period poverty are those living in shelters, teen girls, and women living at or below the poverty line. Food stamps do not cover menstrual items.
  • The ‘tampon tax is the tax menstrual items, like pads and tampons are subject to. This tax is similar to a luxury tax because these products are deemed non-essential. Other items that are taxed as luxury items include yachts, jewelry, and expensive furs.
  • Menstrual Equity is a term that was coined by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf in 2015, and it has come to encompass the idea that menstruation products should be accessible and affordable. Equity, however, is not just abut the products. It is about education, safety, reproductive health, the conversation around menstruation to decrease stigmas, and trying to counteract the far-reaching ramifications that exist when there is menstrual inequity.

Understanding the link between period poverty and the larger inequities females face in education and opportunities helps us understand how to tackle the issues.

Combating Period Poverty

Period poverty greatly affects women and teen girls living in shelters or living at or below the poverty line. As PeriodEquity.org states, “Many in the U.S. are forced to make a terrible choice between buying food or menstrual products.” This problem exists EVERYWHERE globally and in the United States.

BRAWS is based in Fairfax County, Virginia, and does a lot of work in neighboring Loudoun County. These two counties are often cited as some of the most affluent in the country, but as Holly states, “We have so many pockets of poverty. Those are the ones that get forgotten the most. Their needs need to be addressed.” BRAWS is addressing the issue.

Holly Seibold did not necessarily plan on starting a non-profit organization dedicated to menstrual equity, but after reading Huffington Post article about the ways young girls are taught to deal with their periods worldwide, and the shame and stigma that is associated with menstruation, a piece of the puzzle fell into place.

While volunteering at a Dress for Success in New Jersey, Holly recalls having clients say it is ‘great that we have suits, but we don’t have any way to manage our periods, and we don’t have undergarments.’ Dress for Success is an organization that ‘that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire,’ but when women can’t manage their periods, opportunities for employment and advancement can be impacted.

Something else clicked for Holly, and she asked herself, “As a feminist and involved politically since 15, how did I miss this?”

In 2015, during Madi Gras, Holly decided to host an even at her house and call it ‘Mardi Bras’ (a tradition that has continued every year). Holly asked guests to bring a package of unopened menstrual products, or undergarments with the tags still on. Holly’s friends came through and when she contacted places to donate the items, she found that there were more than a few in her immediate area.

Congresswoman Wexton and Holly Seibold at Mardi Bras 2020

“The problem wasn’t finding a place to donate them, the problem came when some of the establishments asked if I could bring more,” Holly remembers. And BRAWS was born.

The organization started in Holly’s garage with her asking friends to host parties similar to ‘Mardi Bras’ in order to expand the network of people willing to donate items. As the network expanded and the awareness of the need increase, she moved to a storage unit, and eventually found an office in Vienna, Virginia.

Our mission is to provide them not only with tangible items they need, but to empower them to gain independence and stability.

On the BRAWS website it states:

The majority of individuals in homeless shelters are women and their children. They are typically victims of domestic violence fleeing from abusive homes or are single mothers who have lost their jobs due to unforeseen circumstances and need help getting back on their feet.  ​They need physical and mental support to transition to better lives for themselves and their children. Our mission is to provide them not only with tangible items they need, but to empower them to gain independence and stability. 

The organization and the mission have grown.  In 2018, BRAWS was ‘able to serve over 80 shelters and schools, help 6,000 women and girls, reach 21 counties, 10 school districts, 6 states, and distribute over two million new and unopened pads, tampons, underwear and bras.’ 

The work that BRAWS is doing is providing a much-needed service to women facing period poverty, but another element of the battle in fighting the inequity comes from existing taxes. The increase cost on these products adds up for all women, let alone women struggling financially.

Advocate to Ax the Tax

When you think about some females forced to make the decision between managing their period, or buying food, it is hard to fathom that in states tampons are still taxed as a luxury item.

Here in Virginia, a bill just went into effect in January of 2020 to reduce, not repeal, the tax on menstrual items. This progress is thanks to the hard work of people like Holly, who testified in Washington DC and Richmond advocating for the repeal of the ‘tampon tax’, and lawmakers like Senator Jennifer Boysko who began to understand that she needed to use her voice on the senate floor to fight for menstrual equity.

It is progress, and it has taken a lot of people and a lot of advocacy to even get this far, but we still har further to go.

“It’s not a priority. Not a priority in the budget,” Holly states, and the longer this imbalance occurs, the longer females will suffer, and the gender equity gap will continue to increase.

The tax on menstrual items brings in approximately $150 million dollars a year nationwide. The burden for covering this source of revenue for states is solely placed on females because items like condoms and Viagra are not taxed as non-essential items the way menstruation products are.

We need to be vocal about this. Periods have a stigma surrounding them. Whether culturally or because it is a ‘woman’s issue’, the silence surrounding the problem is doing all females a disservice.

As it states on PeriodEquity.org:

Since launching the national petition in 2015 to end the tampon tax in the U.S., at least 32 states have introduced measures to eliminate the tax. Ten have seen success—CT, FL, IL, OH, NV, NY, RI, UT, WA, and CA* (through July 2023).

That means that 30 states have NOT introduced any measures to acknowledge the existence of period poverty and the ‘tampon tax’. These factors combined lead to menstrual inequity because not only are periods an economic and political issue, but they are also a societal issue.

Menstrual Equity for All

In her book, Periods Gone Public, Weiss-Wolf states, “In order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that ensure menstrual products are safe and affordable and available for those who need them.”

Holly mentions that the age at which most females drop out of recreational sports is 12-13. Lack of education about their developing bodies, the start of many female’s menstrual cycles, the lack of access to pads and tampons, and the lack of sports bras for support affect participation rates. “Think about it: running and swimming are hard sports to participate in if you don’t know how to use a tampon,” Holly states. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to missed opportunities due to period poverty and menstrual inequity.

We want young females to have every opportunity to participate in academics, athletics, and society without the stigma that is associated with their periods and not being able to manage it. We are doing a disservice to every society in the world when we lose the full participation of over half the population.

So, BRAWS started partnering with local school systems to install dispensers that would provide free tampons and pads in schools to help decrease the amount of class time and opportunities missed to manage periods. The response of female students has been overwhelmingly glowing, but it wasn’t an easy path to get there.

If we can get rid of the stigma, we can’t address the need.

Holly recalls that when she first started going to schools to address period poverty issues in adolescent females, she was often met with the phrase from school counselors, ‘we don’t have that problem here.’ Holly’s thought was, “You do you just don’t know it.”

And she was right, but Holly continues to question, “If we can get rid of the stigma, we can’t address the need. How do we get them to ask for help?”

If we continue to stigmatize a natural occurrence that over half the population experiences, the menstrual equity divide will become egregiously expansive, so we need to end the stigma.

Eradicate the Stigma

No female should be suffering through the management of their period or lacking necessary items like bras and clean underwear because of the stigma surrounding menstruation. As Holly emphasizes, “A core piece of the mission is dignity and empowerment,” and she wants all females to be able to ask for help when they need it, especially young women.

Periods didn’t stop just because of the pandemic.

But, as most of the world knows, COVID has presented unforeseen obstacles to our daily routines, and this is true for the work BRAWS is doing. “Periods didn’t stop just because of the pandemic,” said Holly, but schools did close. This presents a problem.

Schools were a place to reach a large population of young females in need of menstrual items, but with students at home, it has been harder to get the products to the right people. The supply is there, and Holly says the ‘Loudoun County government has been amazing; they gave us two grants to help residents,’ but ‘we have lost the communication with students, and they are embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.’

Menstrual Supplies Ready for Delivery

So here is where you, reader, come in.

Call to Action

If you want to help young women achieve their full potential and be able to manage their periods with dignity, you can:

  • Contact me if you are an LCPS employee and would like to help facilitate a safe and socially distance product pick-up station at your middle or high school to serve the surrounding area and student population.
  • Spread the word about the availability and resources that BRAWS is still providing, even during COVID. Students: Post it. Tweet it. Share it. Let your peers know that menstrual products are available. End the stigma so we can help one another.
  • Make an impact by visiting braws.org to see what items are in high demand, where you can donate money, or where you can drop off products. BRAWS is a 501c3 organization. Your donations are tax deductible:Federal TAX ID: 47-3961191.
  • Just start talking about periods. Start educating yourself on the issues of period poverty and menstrual inequity. Sign petitions and write your legislators to repeal the ‘tampon tax’ in your state.
  • Stop being embarrassed when you get your period! It’s natural, it’s normal, and as females we have enough obstacles to surmount, our periods shouldn’t be one of them.

Until Change Takes Root

One teacher’s quest and call to action

The first year our school was open, the sink in our English department staff lounge worked great. When we returned the second year, it had developed a steady drip, unless you turned the handles wayyyyyy back, past where you’d expect them to stop. Well teachers are busy people and have a lot on their minds, so most never noticed.  I did. 

The Infamous Sign

Sometimes unfortunately, my brain zeros in on the steady drips in life. Long story short, after submitting multiple work requests, it never did get fixed, and to this day (well at least before the ‘Rona) the sink…still…drips.  While the faucet was undeterred by my “Greta-shame” poster I put up, my colleagues did take notice, and made more of an effort to push the handles “farther than you think they need to go” – as stated on my poster.  

This story, while perhaps silly, reflects teaching, as being a teacher is in fact noticing the drips in the sink and being passionate about fixing them. I was fortunate to be raised with the belief that all people are worthy of respect, and I appreciate the lessons I have learned through my 12 years in education that have helped shape and reinforce my moral code.

To be honest, I must admit my awareness has grown more in the past three years than it did over most of my previous life. I’m ashamed to admit that while I did maintain that basic level of “respect for all”, I didn’t really understand what that meant, fully…or at least not what the idea of actual “respect” meant. Domestic and world events of the past three years have opened my eyes and caused me to realize the level of privilege I have been given in life.

Once I realized what I had been blind to for so long, I began my journey into unlearning my biases, by listening to and learning from those who willingly share their lives with the world.  I have learned that respect does not just mean “oh yeah cool of course everyone is equal”, stated out of the side of my mouth while I carry on teaching How to Kill a Mockingbird in my classroom.  

What I can do, and what I aim to do each new school year, is speak for those who are unable to speak up themselves, and to elevate those voices that need to be heard.

Sara with Writer Elizabeth Acevedo

RESPECT, in a real sense of the word, means to “consider things from [another’s] point of view…climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (Thank you, Atticus Finch. You have many drawbacks and I see now why teaching you in class is problematic, but I will acknowledge that you, Scout, Jem, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley taught me many life lessons and helped shape my moral code.) Now, I know that I could never truly walk around in anyone else’s skin…but I have a duty as a human being to dive in and listen to those who do have skin that’s not like mine, and who have very different life experiences from me.  I would be remiss to walk into a classroom year after year and not acknowledge who I am, and that I cannot dare to speak for everyone else. 

What I can do, and what I aim to do each new school year, is speak for those who are unable to speak up themselves, and to elevate those voices that need to be heard. We all have a duty to do this. I use my white lady teacher voice to advocate for students who have IEPs, students who receive English Language services, and students who struggle in a million different ways. I advocate for diverse texts in our building, to better share the experiences of humans who don’t look like me, or know the path I walk.  As noted in my earlier story, I also do my best to advocate for our planet Earth.

The drips will continue until change takes root in the education world.

I know I know, it’s a lot of advocating.  It gets exhausting, honestly.  But when I look at my students sitting in front of me, and I think of the students I’ve taught in the past, and I look at my own children at home, I know that I have to fight to expand our worldview.  As Nahliah Webber, the Executive Director of the Orleans Public Education Network, states in her essay If You Really Want to Make a Difference in Black Lives, Change How You Teach White Kids, “The system that killed George Floyd and the system that raised and educated the cop who killed him are the same. … I am tired of folks acting like there’s no direct connection between the schools where White children sit and the street corners where they choke out Black life.” 

The drips will continue until change takes root in the education world. There are still too many systemic structures in place that suppress true enlightenment, and that hurts all of us.  We have a lot of work to do, white teachers.  Let’s get to it.

-Sara Watkins

For Even One Voice

7/29/2020

Editors Note: I have the honor to not only teach with Sara, but to learn from her as a professional. When I first reached out to her to write this piece, I thought of her ‘sink sign’ that still hangs in our department workroom because that, to me, is Sara in a nutshell.

She made a group of adults think about our responsibility to the world we inhabit, and we did. We changed our behaviors because of her. That is also what she does every day in her classroom, and she does it from a place of genuine love, compassion, and vision for a better world.

And on a personal note, thank you, Sara. Thank you for writing this piece in the midst of quarantine with 2 kids. And thank you for trying to save our planet. You have saved me, on more than one occasion, from the brink of a melt-down, perpetual self-doubt, and you know you ALWAYS save my lesson plans with the perfect article for Women’s Studies.

It is an honor to be your friend.

Love,

J.Berg

We Can Walk Together

Monica Belton, and her mission to instigate conversation, and ’embark on a campaign to strengthen the resilience factor of BELONGING.

By Jessica Berg

In the Historic Ashburn Colored School, a one room school house built sometime between 1887 and 1892, which was used to teach Black students in Virginia during segregation, I met Monica Belton.

Image of the Historic Ashburn Colored School by Jim Barnes of the Washington Post

Monica, a School Social Worker, a certified trauma professional in education, and founder of R.E.C.E.T. (Resilient Experiences for Children Exposed to Trauma), was facilitating a workshop on racial microaggressions.  

Sitting in the late July heat in a building with no air conditioning or indoor plumbing, it was hard not to notice the tangible symbolism of this building. A monument to the divide in the equity of education in Loudoun County, and though the doors to the school closed in 1958, this divide in education for minority students still exists 62 years later.

Monica, the child of a Black father and a Puerto Rican mother, grew up in black community in Union Township, New Jersey and at the age of 12 she decided she wanted to go to a summer camp. Monica has an energetic tenacity, so her parents eventually agreed to send her to the wilderness camp, and not knowing much of the nature of this particular camp, when Monica arrived, she soon learned it was a program for at risk girls.

What happened to you?

It was this moment, this experience, this ‘shift in lens’ as Monica calls it, that set her on a path to understand emotions and behaviors of young people and ask, “What happened to you?” This question has guided her professional life, from navigating the trauma of severely disturbed children to a pimp that threw a glass coke bottle at her head when she was 8 month pregnant, she wants to understand the trauma that leads to these emotions and behaviors. She wants to empathize.

This moment and lens shift at a summer camp grew into returning to the camp every summer during high school to work. Monica later took position at similar wilderness camps in North Carolina and Georgia, except these were year-round, and she had to cut her own wood in the winter and feed it to a pot belly stove to keep warm.

After a few years in the wilderness, Monica moved west to Arizona, a place where no pot belly stove was needed to keep warm, and soon found herself enrolled at ASU, pursuing a bachelors and then a Master’s in Social Work.

Monica Belton

Monica remained in Arizona, working in alternative schools in a Social Worker capacity. A former co-worker, Sara Casey, who worked with Monica in the west valley of Phoenix says about Monica, “She brought enthusiasm and passion to her work every day. She went above and beyond countless times to support students, both academically and emotionally. Monica believed in every child and supported them in achieving their personal best.”

Phoenix was a tough area to work, and even tougher, as Monica puts it, to raise kids. Her two sons were growing up in an area where young boys of color are initiated into gangs early and often, she decided she wanted to move east. Loudoun County, a suburb in Northern Virginia, came offering with a job, and it is here where Monica has worked and lived for the past 11 years.

On its surface, Loudoun County has a great school system. It is a school system that prides itself on its academic excellence, graduation rates, college acceptances, and equity. On their website Loudoun touts:

From the 2019-2020 LCPS Fact Sheet

Loudoun’s 94 public schools offer more than 83,000 students an educational program that ranks among the best in Virginia and the nation. One of the fastest growing counties in America, Loudoun continues its proud tradition of quality public education, maintaining an outstanding record of student achievement despite the pressures of surging enrollment.

The student population has surged, and it has also become more with every passing year. According to the LCPS Fact Sheet for the 2019-2020 school year, the student population make up is 47% white, 22% Asian, 18% Hispanic, 7% African American, and 6% listed as multi-racial.

This matters. It matters because the diversity of Loudoun County students is not mirrored in the staff, administration, curriculum, and policies that govern LCPS. This disparity leads to a litany of incidents from racially insensitive lessons in elementary school to the lack of opportunities for Black students that are offered through programs like the Academies of Loudoun.

Parent complaints and an investigation from the Virginia attorney general’s office led LCPS to seek outside consultation from the Equity Collaborative. In a 23-page report stated, among other things:

  • Discipline policies and practices disproportionately negatively impact students of color, particularly Black/African-American students
  • Many English Learners, Black/African-American, Latinx, and Muslim students have experienced the sting of racial insults/slurs or racially motivated violent actions
  • People are unclear and fearful on how to participate in conversations about race, let alone respond to racially charged incidents.

The report led superintendent Eric Williams to issue a statement directly addressing Equity in LCPS at the start of the 2019-2020 school year saying in part:

LCPS is committed to providing a safe, empathetic, respectful and supportive learning environment in order to empower every student to make meaningful contributions to the world. When students and staff experience racial insults, slurs, and/or other hate speech, we lack the positive culture and climate that supports students’ growth.…

Every individual is valued in Loudoun County Public Schools. Let’s celebrate the diversity that helps define us as a school division. 

Then, in the spring of this year, all students, staff, and the rest of the world were quarantined at home when George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, 2020.

This murder was not the first gruesome display of unchecked racism in our country. It was not the first time the murder of a Black man by armed police officers was caught on tape. But it is the first time so many people were forced to watch a man being murdered, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, because of the color of his skin

The murder of George Floyd marked a tangible shift in the Black Lives Matter movement and the conversation of race in this country. This shift is what brought me to the Historic Colored School in Ashburn on a summer night in July.

Monica, like so many other citizens, women of color, and educators, was fueled by the images of George’s murder, and her first thoughts went to the children, the young students, and especially students of color, and thinking what their reactions were.

How was this trauma going to affect them? How they were dealing with being Black in America in 2020? What were their experiences in a school system that claims to promote equity? What was LCPS doing to ‘engage in the disruption and dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism’ as their equity statement asserts?

Logo From recetnow.org

Monica, still fueled by the same energetic tenacity she had at 12, and now with years of knowledge and experience, wasn’t going to wait for another statement from the county, she was going to act. R.E.C.E.T. was formed from this moment in history.

When talking about children and childhood traumas, Monica stated, “Children only have so much of a lens,” they are seeing this murder, but they don’t have the framework to process it because they themselves are still developing as humans. It affects them.

Monica, through R.E.C.E.T., aims to and push the conversation about race in this county and in the country forward. We need resources to help our children heal, and as educators we need to understand the experiences and trauma that some of our students enter our classrooms with. We need to ask, “What happened to you?” instead of perpetuating the cycle at the hands of a system that claims to ‘celebrate diversity.’

“You can only be heard by people who are listening.”

Monica is providing the safe space and the resources; we need to show up and be allies.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Black people make up 12.7% of the population, and Virginia has the 9th largest African American population according to the Census Bureau. 12.7% of the population should not carry the burden of fixing a system of racism that they had no part in creating.

I asked Monica about reaching people who hesitant or unwilling to reflect on their own participation in a racist system, and she said, “You can only be heard by people who are listening.”

Monica exudes compassion and understanding. I sat with her and Wendy Caudle Hodge, former Chair of MSAAC, for two hours in the Historic Colored School talking about microaggressions, asking questions, listening, and understanding.

I call on you to do the same. I am asking you to show up and listen because if we are going to create a better county and country for our children, students, and community, then we need to work to change it.

Monica Belton

And, as a school system in Loudoun County, we need to be accountable to all of our students. We need to reflect on the education system’s role in enabling systematic racism to continue before we can claim to be actively dismantling it. We need Monica’s workshops to take place in every school building. We need to have the tough conversations. We need to address our own bias and complicity in continuing a cycle of inequity. We need to be actively anti-racist.

Monica is a powerful voice in our community. We need to listen.

To learn more about Monica, her organization, and ways to become an ally, check out:

To the Friends who Stayed Silent

A letter from a young activist.

Introduction from the Editor:

I was introduced to Henri Somadjagbi, a recent graduate from Clayton High School in North Carolina, when he joined Allies for Black Voices to discuss his massive social media platform and his use of it to ‘take action and do his part,’ for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Seeing the power of the next generation and their ability to organize, vocalize, and make a difference was moving, as a high school teacher and an activist. One of the most poignant moments was when Henri was asked if he lost friendships because of his more recent vocal activism.

Image from the Instagram of @jberg33

He responded, “Actually, yeah…a lot.”

He continued to explain that his anger arose from friends and classmates who partook in the products of Black culture, from music, to style, and slang, “Yet when we need you, you don’t want to speak up.”

“I spoke, and so much happened. I lit that match.”

Henri Somadjagbi

Under the surface of Henri’s measured response, you could sense the frustration and sadness, but also the very mature resolve in understanding that some friendships don’t withstand true tests of this magnitude.

When he created a post, directed to those silent friends, he received responses and comments asking him if he was going to let something like this ‘ruin our friendship.’ His reply:

“Yes. You are supposed to be my friend… You have to see my color…that’s what this whole fight is about. This is something that is a threat to my life. You have a voice too, you make a big difference.”

In that moment, from the voice of a young 18-year-old, wisdom and insight into the reality of relationships and the fight for equality in this country became sharply clarified. If you do not speak up and stand as an ally, it is your loss, not Henri’s.

From the Instagram of Henri @henrisomad

Below is a letter I asked Henri to write for the site, unedited:

To the friends that stayed silent,

When the black lives matter movement began, I immediately decided to take action &’ do my part. I consistently shared everything and anything I could on all my social media platforms to inform my supporters, friends &’ family.

As I got farther into my activism, I realised many of my non-coloured friends weren’t speaking about what’s going on, and it left me very upset and disappointed. I made a statement saying “if you aren’t speaking about what’s going on &’ you’re non-coloured… I don’t want you apart of my life anymore” Everyone has the right to say &’ do what they believe in, you have the right to be silent if you choose to… but I equally have the right to defriend you if you’re quiet.

Some of the same people who were asking me questions such as “would you be mad if I said the N-word” &’ get upset with me when I say yes are now saying “I don’t see color” or statements that are viewed negatively towards black lives… others just didn’t care enough to reach out to me and say anything, or stay silent.

I felt hurt &’ betrayed. Some of my friends that I’ve had for two years now… relationships ended. On top of that I know many of them use the n-word in the dark where no one can hear them, but in the light when black lives matter you can’t scream “black lives matter”?

Having “friends” who love black culture, using black slang, &’ having me as a black friend &’ then being silent when MY life is at risk…is one of the most significant moments of betrayal I’ve ever felt. 

Henri

And, as Henri said, you have a voice and a platform. What are you doing with it? Are you standing on the right side of history?

Follow Henri:

  • Tiktok: @Henriidanger
  • Instagram: @henrisomad
  • Twitter: @Henriidanger

Check out the full Allies for Black Voices discussion:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiM3ESiX9Ek

And Visit the ‘Pick up the Battle’ Page on the side menu of the site to see where you can become an ally.