“SlutWalk Philadelphia” Grows Up

The idea of the original “SlutWalk” came up in 2011, when Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti discussed campus rape at a forum at York University and remarked, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

The lead organizer of the march, Christie Eastburn, said that “the ignorance of one police officer ignited people across the globe into action. The suggestion that women can avoid rape by dressing conservatively was something that people were tired of hearing, and we decided this antiquated belief needed to end.”

Eastburn said that the purpose of the march was “to give support to survivors of rape, and also to educate the community and to raise awareness about the issue of rape culture”:

There are many different things in society that basically give people the idea that sometimes rape is okay, that it is condoned, or that victims are blamed when something happens to them.

On September 27, the march took place in Philadelphia under a new name: “The March to End Rape Culture.” Eastburn said that since the first Slutwalk, “groups of people let it be known that the word ’slut’ was not something they felt they could reclaim”

Some African-American women felt they were not in the position to reclaim the word ’slut’ because of the unique construction of the sexualities of African-American women in America, and the different associations that [the word] has for them. Some groups didn’t identify with the word, others found it triggering.

The first speaker at this march was the chair of the Philadelphia branch of the group Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), Preeti Pathak who gave these statistics:

  • one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen…
  • every two minutes, someone in the U.S. in sexually assaulted…
  • seventeen percent of men, and twenty-five percent of women, are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime…
  • ninety percent of young women involved in prostitution were victims of sexual abuse as children…
  • only five to twenty percent of sexual assaults are actually reported by girls and women…
  • an even smaller percentage of male survivors report [being raped]…
  • one in twelve college age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says that 17.6% of women and only 3% of men are victims of sexual assaults, and that 40% of rapes get reported to the police. However, RAINN agrees with Pethak’s other claims.

Pathak defined a rape culture as “a culture in which sexual violence is accepted as part of everyday life,” which include such things as “rape jokes, slut shaming, victim blaming, sex negativity, trans-phobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, and silence.”

Pathek added that “male allies and male survivors stand alongside women and shatter the silence. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue anymore, but a human-rights issue.”

An activist for LGBT youth of color, Qui Alexander, referred to the assault on two gay men in Rittenhouse Square earlier in the month, and the push for hate-crime legislation to combat assaults on LGBT people:

Violence against trans-women of color, and gender non-conforming people of color, is normalized in our society, particularly around trans-women of color, particularly around sexual assault, in this way where people talk about it to each other saying, ‘Hey, you have to protect yourself because this will happen.’

A survivor of child molestation and rape and founder of Just Be Inc., a group dedicated to the well-being of you women of color, Tarana Burke, spoke about the importance of support groups for victims:

I was introduced to the word ‘survivor’ during a meeting of activist women in California in the late nineties. It was on that trip that I also met more than one women who had the same experiences that I had, or worse. It was the first time in my life that I did not feel completely alone in the small world of ‘victim’ that I created for myself. The realization that I wasn’t alone changed my life.

The magic of what happened to me in California wasn’t just in meeting those women, it was being able to share my experiences with other women who didn’t look at me with pity or sympathy, but with genuine empathy that created authentic connections that crossed social, economic, and racial lines.

There weren’t deep conversations about reproductive rights or restorative justice, there was no mention of rape culture at all. It was just me taking a chance and sharing a part of myself that I have successfully compartmentalized and kept under wraps for a very long time, with women who have carved out a safe and protected space for me to share. The outpouring of empathy was so simple that I almost missed it.

Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House voted 195-0 and passed the bill known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry in PA (SAFER PA).

The bill, introduced by state Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), will require timely testing of DNA evidence kits, and that backlogged and untested evidence be reported to the state. The legislation also requires that victims or surviving family be notified when DNA testing has been completed.

Boyle praised the legislature after the bill’s passage:

Nationwide, there are at least 400,000 backlogged and untested rape-kits of which we know. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have no reporting requirements, meaning the true extent of this backlog is unknown. Every untested kit represents a horrible injustice to the victim; a victim who may be lacking the closure that would come with solving their case. Passing my legislation today represents a big step toward bringing justice and closure to victims of sexual assault.

Who Will Replace Rep. Allyson Schwartz in PA-13?

— by Ben Burrows

Three Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district:

debated at the Upper Dublin Township Building in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

The remaining Democratic candidate former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies did not respond to five requests to participate in the forum.

The district is currently represented by Allyson Schwartz, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor.

Since the congressional redistricting, the 13th district covers the Main Line suburbs, much of Montgomery County, and parts of Northeast Philadelphia. It is one of the five districts in Pennsylvania into which the Republican legislature packed as many democrats as possible in order to create Republican majorities in the other thirteen districts. Accordingly, the stakes in this democratic primary are very high as the general election is practically a foregone conclusion in this dark blue district which Allyson Schwartz carried in 2012 with 69% of the vote.

An audience of about 250 watched the forum organized by Montgomery County Democracy for America and the Area 6 Democratic Committee, and moderated by Philadelphia Daily News writer Will Bunch.

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:
Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Never Forget: Help Pennsylvanians Remember the Holocaust

— by Ed Snyder

A bill was introduced by State Representative Brendan Boyle. The bill would amend the Public School Code of 1949 to require all public and nonpublic schools in Pennsylvania to include in their existing curriculum age-appropriate education for grades 6-12 on the Holocaust and other
modern genocides.

The bill in the Education Committee and is coming up for a vote on April 8. We are urging everyone to contact Mr. Paul Clymer (chair of the Education Committee) He can be contacted by calling tel. 717-783-3154. Please leave a message indicating you support the bill. Also have your friends and relatives do likewise.