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Racial Slurs Have No Place in Football

The leaves are changing. The scent of pumpkin spice lattes is in the air. In short, it’s football season. And like millions of my fellow Americans, I love football.

But I’m also American Indian.

So for me, football season also means hearing a racial slur all the time. It’s used by sports teams around the country — and by Washington, D.C.’s National Football League team in particular.

You may know that franchise as the Redskins. I refer to it as the R-word.

Natives have been calling on sports teams to do away with the slur for 50 years, along with other mocking mascots and racist caricatures of Natives employed by teams of all kinds. Professional outfits should know better, but so should schools and communities.

So I celebrated recently, along with much of Indian Country, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act into law. It banned the state’s public schools from using the R-word to name sports teams. Schools in four California counties will soon have to rebrand their buildings, logos, uniforms, and mascots.

“We cannot change history or erase the past,” said Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, president of Native Education Raising Dedicated Students. “But today, as Native students, we shall celebrate this step in the right direction of improving our educational experiences.”

I agree. Now if we can just convince our nation’s leaders to do the same.

My hope faded, though, when I heard Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush use the R-word not once, not twice, but three times during an interview in October. Then there’s GOP candidate Donald Trump, who proclaimed that Indians are “extremely proud” of the term.

Wrong.

For Native children, the R-word and its associated mascots are demeaning and disparaging, eroding their self-confidence and self-image. Unsurprisingly, peer-reviewed studies have suggested that racist mascots can hurt the performance of Native students.

It’s an additional mockery for an already suffering group of young people whose second-leading cause of death is suicide. And it’s an added insult to people whose treaty rights are still being violated, even today.

Native Americans are regularly confronted with attempts to turn our sacred religious lands over to corporations for profit. In Oak Flat, Arizona, some 2,400 acres of national forest land — protected since 1955 as Apache sacred land — is being handed over to Resolution Copper, a British-Australian mining conglomerate.

Meanwhile Natives continue to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would funnel oil mined from tar sands nearly 1,800 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through multiple sovereign Indian territories. The U.S. government never negotiated with the tribes when charting the pipeline, despite the impact it will have on their lands.

And in spite of long-standing poverty, gross health disparities between Natives and non-Natives, and ongoing discrimination, federal funding for Indian health care, housing, and education programs remains paltry.

Most people have the good sense not to use the R-word to our faces. So why would you plaster it across a stadium?

Dropping the R-word alone won’t solve these deep crises in Indian Country. But it’s a crucial step toward restoring the equity, dignity, and democracy taken from the first people of this land.

At the very least, it’ll let us all get back to enjoying football — without the nasty reminder that the rights of American Indians still aren’t fully recognized.

Judith Le Blanc is the Director of the Native Organizers Alliance and an enrolled member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.
Distributed by OtherWords.org

“While We Celebrate a $15 Minimum Wage, Let’s Remember It’s Not Enough”

There has been a lot of buzz around the Seattle City Council’s historic adoption of a $15 minimum wage, the highest in the nation. Now there’s also excitement over last week’s passage of a living wage ordinance by the King County Council that sets the same wage floor for county employees and contractors.

Yes, $15 is more than twice the federal minimum wage, which stands at a paltry $7.25 an hour and that Congress has failed to increase for five years and counting.

But despite the recent local victories, let’s not hang up a “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet; we still have a long way to go. In this debate, some have argued that $15 is too big of a jump. On the contrary, it does not go far enough.

First and foremost, $15 is not enough for King County families to meet basic needs.

In August, the Alliance for a Just Society and Washington Community Action Network jointly released “Families Out of Balance,” which calculates basic expenses for King County residents.

The report finds that the hourly wage full-time workers in King County need to make basic ends meet, ranges from $17.37 an hour for a single individual to $34.46 for a single adult with two children. These calculations include food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, household, small savings, child care and tax costs. They assume a 40-hour workweek. (See http://www.thejobgap.org.)

Meanwhile, if you can’t make ends meet, it’s not as simple as just finding another job. Another study the Alliance released last year found that, for every living wage job for a single individual in Washington state, there are eight job-seekers.

For a single parent with two kids, there are 21 job seekers for every living wage job. Seventy-eight percent of all job openings in Washington don’t pay enough for that parent to survive.

Quite simply, many King County families aren’t making ends meet, and $15 is not a living wage.

Our improved minimum wage falls short by other measures as well. A Center for Economic and Policy Research report finds that, had the federal minimum wage kept up with economic productivity, it should have been $21.72 an hour in 2012, about three times the current minimum wage.

It is also worth noting that several exceptions have watered down the policy. The Seattle minimum wage is phased-in, getting to $15 an hour gradually between 2017 and 2021, depending on the size of the business and whether it offers health care.

The Seattle wage schedule gets us closer to an actual living wage than we’ve been in the history of our living wage study, which goes back to 1999. But in reality, it remains a modest step in the right direction.

In the end, the triumph of $15 is that it was a bottom-up approach to progressive policy change that succeeded. After all, it was Seattle’s low-wage workers who first had the courage to demand a $15 minimum wage — and they got it.

Many families face impossible balance sheets, paying living costs, maybe student loan debt or medical bills, and are having excruciating kitchen table conversations.

A $15 minimum wage is a huge step in the right direction, but we must remember that this is only the beginning in the movement for a more prosperous Washington and America.

This article originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Graduates Struggle Under a Mountain of Debt

College is supposed to be the pathway to a better job and a better life, but for students across the country college is also the pathway to a life of debt.

Since 2008, states across the country have decreased their investment in higher education, with every state except for Alaska and North Dakota providing less per student in 2014 than in 2008. These cuts have led colleges and universities to increase tuition to make up for the lost funding, shifting that burden onto students and their families.

“A Mountain of Debt,” released this week in Washington and Connecticut, show clearly that when students face increased tuition and low wages, many must turn to student loans to cover costs. In fact, nationwide 70 percent of students graduate with student loans. The average amount of debt at graduation is $29,000.

Students in states like Washington and Connecticut find themselves unable to get by without loans for college, and unable to easily pay them off after graduation.

“I was working 80 hours a week to pay for school and living expenses. My average day would include working multiple fast food jobs sporadically thrown between classes, working one job until 8:30 at night, working 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. loading trucks in a factory, then getting up for class at 8 a.m. and doing it all over again,” said Alex Katz, a student at the University of Connecticut.

Christina Hoadley, a student at Central Connecticut State University, works two jobs to help pay for college, but still is worried about the prospect of paying off her loans. “After grad school, I anticipate walking away with a loan amount to the tune of $40,000. I’ll have to begin paying on all that within 6 to 8 months after completing school. It’s a lot of stress knowing the huge weight of debt that lies ahead.”

In Washington, Roxana Pardo Garcia loves the work that she has found since graduation, but she does not earn enough to make paying off her student loans easy. “My current student loan debt load is $19,000, and my loan payments take about 20 percent of my monthly take-home pay. I just wish I could help my mom out more. After all, she is the reason I went to school: to lift us out of the cycle of poverty.”

Bernadette Binalangbang of Tukwila, Washington has had to take a job outside of her field just so she can work to pay off her student loans. “I really love to bake and making pastries is my passion, [but] I’m currently employed full-time at a medical lab. It’s a complete shift from what I’d like to be doing, but it pays my bills and keeps me afloat — just barely. My student debt payments take up more than 30 percent of my monthly income.”

Disinvestment by states has left students and graduates like Alex, Christina, Roxana, and Bernadette in an uphill battle against the mountain of debt they’ve accumulated. States like Washington and Connecticut need to reinvest in higher education, or even more students will find themselves with no choice but to take out loans that they will repay for years to come.

Immigration Reform 2013: Looking Back, Moving Forward

In the late 1990s, many leaders and organizations including PCUN, CHIRLA, and our own NWFCO, among others, lay the foundation of our current movement and of what would eventually be known as the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. Almost fifteen years later, the immigrant rights movement has a chance to pass immigration reform in 2013.

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Does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce speak for small business? Maine small business owner says: “No!”

Melanie Collins, a small business owner and leader with the Maine Small Business Coalition, traveled to Washington, DC on October 19 to speak at a press conference outside the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Her message was simple: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for small business, and it doesn’t speak for me.” Read more

When the Supremes Hit the Extremes What Happens?

Throughout most of our history the Supreme Court has been accorded a special place as a fair and impartial arbiter of legal issues. Sometimes the Court has failed in this role, but, for the most part it has been an important force in the unity of the nation because seemed to deserved respect.

The current Supreme Court majority has become so partisan that it is systematically undermining the principle of law and injecting in its place a radical corporate elitism that threatens our political stability by undergirding extreme economic inequality.

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