Every American has the right to a clean environment, a good education, and a vibrant economy. And again, we’re only going to achieve it if we come together and vote.
It’s hard to get the message out about the enormous challenges that are facing the country when it comes to the environment.
Tom Steyer, founder of NextGenClimate, has hit upon a strategy to get the residents of his state to look at some very deep problems in their own backyard. Through spearheading a documentary web series that shows another side of California, he has driven home information via a format that takes into account the way the public best consumes and digests information.
Comedian and actress Kiran Deol (who also happens to be a Harvard graduate) anchors the segments, delving into crucial topics in vignettes that would be at home on the Comedy Central station. Mixed with laughs are some very unfunny revelations about about the disparity in living conditions between poor communities and their more affluent neighbors.
The top takeaway is the clear picture of how a lack of environmental justice is at play. It’s common knowledge that California has been suffering from drought conditions. However, it’s under the radar that 3,000 residents in East Porterville have no running water in their homes. Some have been without water for two to four years. The conditions shown are what we as a nation would deplore around the globe. East Porterville is not part of any state public water system. However, seven miles away, we see footage of sprinklers watering grass — and sidewalks.
The drought is also impacting farming. Two-thirds of America’s produce comes from California. In 2014, 3.3 billion barrels of water were used to produce 205 million barrels of oil. Farmers are currently desperate for water to grow their grapes, citrus fruit, and other crops. They have turned to using recycled oil water, complete with the residue of chemicals and solvents, to irrigate their fields. This oil field waste water is being sold by Chevron.
Equally distressing was the segment on the locality of Wilmington, which is near the Port of Los Angeles. The population is 85 percent Hispanic. Here, low-income residents live with five oil refineries in their area, along with freeway exhaust laden with particulate matter. Manuel Pastor is interviewed and states, “Poor people experience dirtier, more dangerous air.” He also discusses the disparities in exposure to air borne toxins reflected by race and ethnicity. Asthma is high, and one mother of a five-year old spoke tearfully of her daughter who has had pneumonia three times.
I reached out to Steyer, to ask him about the Spotlight California series, and to learn more about his goals to accomplish a 50 percent renewable energy level by 2030.
You sponsored the web documentary series Spotlight on California. In the five episodes I viewed, the segments clearly take on the power brokers of big oil ¾ particularly Chevron. Do you think the fact that you come out of the business and investment sectors makes people take your support of environmental protections more seriously? For example, the issue of “price manipulation” for consumers in California which was highlighted in “At the Pump.”
I think we need to look behind the numbers and words that oil companies choose and release to the public. There are some hard facts — like refining and marketing profits in California — that directly contradict their public statements. Knowing where they legally can’t mislead makes it easier. They may not disclose the truth, but if they do, it’ll be to the shareholders.
A clear emphasis is put on the issue of Environmental Justice, and how low-income communities and people of color share a disproportionate amount of the day-to-day burden of pollution. What do you attribute the existence of hot-spots like Central Valley and Wilmington to? Is it primarily the fault of elected officials?
The inequality gap in California is staggering — race, income, and zip code often determine whether or not Californians have water, how long they live, and what kind of air they breathe. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t right. It’s no secret that low-income communities of color are hardest hit by the effects of pollution. Look across the state: from Wilmington to Richmond, we know the California Dream is not yet a reality for everyone. Political power is about organization and voice. These communities often lack at least one of them. However, we are working with some incredible organizations to make sure that everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and can achieve the California Dream. I’m confident that if we come together and fight for these basic rights, we will win.
I have written about the oversaturation of toxic sitings in areas of the Bronx, on the opposite side of the United States, where there is also a very high poverty level. Asthma is prevalent, and children are at major risk. Yet the scale always tips towards the goals of big business rather than the health and welfare of the community. How do we change that mindset moving forward?
Across the country, from the Bronx, to Flint, to here in California, there are crises of inequality. For too long, polluters have profited at the expense of communities. But, we know that our democracy and our voice are strongest when everyone participates. I can’t emphasize enough that in 2016 especially — voting is everything. Your vote is your voice, and by speaking up at the ballot box you can affect change from the local level to the national level. That is where progressive change is going to come from — from voters who stand up to special interests for their families and their communities, and demand what’s right. There’s a fight going on, as you suggest, between economic interests and citizens. We know they’ll be well-funded and well-organized. Will we?
Moms Clean Air Force has been fighting for clean air for children. What is your message to parents?
The future is in our hands — if we choose to exercise our collective will at the ballot box. As a father of four, I think about the future a lot. In fact, that’s why I started NextGen Climate — to make sure we’re leaving our kids a country they’re proud to inherit. Every American has the right to a clean environment, a good education, and a vibrant economy. And again, we’re only going to achieve it if we come together and vote. We need to fight for leaders and policies that promote economic justice, educational justice and environmental justice for all Americans. We must hold them accountable for our health and well-being, and that of our children. 2016 is a big year for all of us, and I know that the more people participate, the stronger our democracy will be.
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force
I first met Kate Nace Day when I took part in the 2012 Fighting Trafficking through Film forum, a project produced by the Boston Initiative to Advance Human Rights. I was there as a panelist and a writer covering the event.
Kate was screening the trailer for her documentary in progress, A Civil Remedy. She was also participating in her capacity as a Suffolk University Law School professor. Kate had moved into the documentary film space as a way to augment conveying information about human trafficking to her students. Her “a-ha” moment came when she screened The Day My God Died for her class. The account of girls from Nepal, as young as 7 years old, being sold into sexual slavery in India hit a nerve. It took the reality of the issue to a new level.
We kept in touch, and Kate invited me to her New York screening of the completed documentary. (Full disclosure: I was more than surprised to see my name in the thank-you credits. Kate graciously told me it was because I spent so much time talking with her about women and documentary film when she first dipped her toe into the creative waters.)
I recently reached out to Kate to discuss her film, her impact on the 2011 Massachusetts anti-trafficking law, and her take on the distinctions between “sex work,” “sexual exploitation,” and “abolition.”
Human sex trafficking is a very complex subject. Many Americans believe that it only happens in foreign countries, when actually it is occurring in all 50 states. Your film focuses on the story of Danielle, a 17-year-old girl who came to Boston in 2011 to study sociology. An invitation to a party led to a relationship with a middle-aged man. He evolved from “boyfriend” to pimp, and through coercion and physical violence forced Danielle to work on the streets of Boston as a prostitute. She states in the film, “I had no idea I was a human trafficking victim until I got out.” How does this happen?
Sadly, this happens to the thousands of American children who are found in prostitution each year. Many of them are runaways, young teens trying to get away from abuse or violence in their family, or from bullying at school. They may be what we call a ‘throwaway’ — a kid who is thrown out of the house because of behaviors or chosen sexuality. Or, maybe, she’s just the girl next door.
Every child who has been sexually assaulted is made more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. She may never tell anyone. Her parents and teachers, the healthcare and social service professionals, and an entire criminal justice system may ignore all the signs. Then a smooth talking, street-smart pimp comes along and pays attention to her in a way no one previous has. It’s as easy as that.
In 2015 The Georgetown Law Center published a study, The Girls’ Story, about the national crisis of violence against girls. It found that one in four American girls experiences some form of sexual violence by the age of 18, nearly half of all female rape survivors were victimized before the age of 18, fifteen percent of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12. The stats are chilling.
You interviewed Siddhartha Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. He talks about the economic crime of forced labor and human trafficking within the context of economics, finance, and law. Sexual trafficking has been referenced as “rape for profit.” It is more lucrative than selling drugs or weapons — particularly because the “product” is resold endlessly. Trafficking has moved underground and to the Internet. Backpage.com has netted $22 million in prostitution-related ads. Is this what led to your thinking about a strategy to allow survivors to file a civil claim in the courts for financial restitution?
In 2011, Massachusetts was one of four states in the country with no comprehensive human trafficking law. Massachusetts’ Attorney General, Martha Coakley, had proposed a bill and when the Boston Globe called me for a comment, I had only one question: “Does the proposed law have a civil remedy provision?”
I wasn’t thinking about the economics of the sex industry. I was thinking about how our justice systems — criminal and civil — treat sex trafficking victims. Under our national law, anyone under the age of 18 who is sold for sex is a trafficking victim. Consent is irrelevant. But in many states, prostituted children are still arrested and treated as criminals.
There is a civil remedy provision in the national law and in many state trafficking laws that entitle victims to sue their violators for money damages. They could hire their own lawyers, frame their own stories, and then tell it to the law. They can be empowered to hold the perpetrators accountable. It was Catharine MacKinnon’s theory in 1994, when she was working with then-senator Joe Biden on the Violence Against Women’s Act: When the criminal justice system fails victims of violence, the civil justice system is their only justice.
The average age of entry into trafficking is 12 to 14. Of the two to four million people trafficked for sex each year, 90 percent are girls and women who are predominately poor and disproportionately women of color. In your documentary, Gloria Steinem spoke of the importance of individual survivor storytelling and its relationship to feminist legal theory. Do you agree? And can these narratives illuminate the difference between those who maintain that they are “sex workers” and those who have been forced into sexual servitude and are not on a path of self-determination?
Survivor stories give us the details, gestures, and remembered events that make the human story of sex trafficking real and alive. A girl in Cambodia who thought she was going to work in a rice shop, but is sold into a brothel. A 13-year-old in the Bronx who ends up in a hospital after a brutal beating from her pimp. As Steinem has said, “There is nothing more important than the stories.”
Last summer, the New York Times reported on sexual slavery in the organization of the Islamic State. The reports included survivor accounts of rape, torture, and humiliation, but they also presented a YouTube video of where women were bought and sold for sex — “a group of men believed to be Islamic State fighters are shown sitting in a room bantering about buying and selling Yazidi girls on ‘slave market day.’”
We are rarely shown the faces of men in stories about the sex trade — whether in war or peace. I read posts and articles that tell the story of prostitution in the United States as ‘sex work.’ Some admit to the vulnerability of those found in prostitution — young, poor, and likely to be from disadvantaged social and racial groups — but they still call prostitution consensual, work freely chosen. Some admit to the violence endured in ‘the life,’ but we never see the violators who inflict the wounds. If I were to talk with a young woman who told that story I would ask only one question: Is this the life you want for your daughter?
Sex trafficking survivors have successfully pressed civil claims against pimps and johns — rendering these men visible, holding them accountable. Internet profiteers like Backpage.com, however, have enjoyed immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Then, this month [March], the United States Senate voted unanimously, 96-0, to hold Backpage.com in civil contempt after it did not comply with a subpoena to hand over documents explaining how it combats sex trafficking in ads on the adult section of its website. This move will allow Senate lawyers to bring a lawsuit in federal district court to force compliance with the subpoena. Maybe we will see their faces.
Finally, how do you change cultural norms to eliminate the commodification of women — from popular culture to the extreme of sex trafficking?
We need to ask in every way, ‘What do girls and women need to be fully human, to be equal in their daily lives?’ We need to ask, ‘What does law have the power to change?’ Catharine MacKinnon wrote that law doesn’t guarantee social change but without it, change is impossible.
Photo: Courtesy of Film and Law Productions
A version of this article originally appeared on the website Ravishly.
It is infuriating to see women portrayed in ways that are offensive, demeaning, or adding to an outdated cultural portrayal. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read an article, seen a movie, experienced a cringe-worthy advertisement, or listened to a pundit discussing “women’s issues” with no concept of authenticity.
Chances are good that if this has been your experience as well, it’s also been on the radar of Jennifer Pozner, the founder of Women In Media & News (WIMN). The stated mission of the organization is “to increase women’s presence in the public debate, emphasizing those who are least often heard, including women of color, low-income women, lesbians, youth and older women.”
Pozner has been on the frontlines of media activism and analysis for over two decades. She has appeared on television to discuss media equity, penned op-eds and articles, and is the author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV. Yet, perhaps her most important work is the media literacy lectures and workshops, and media trainings that she conducts at colleges and universities across the nation.
I caught up with Pozner after she had completed a speaking engagement at the California State University in San Marcos.
Allen Ginsberg said, “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” Do you agree? If so, is this part of why you founded Women In Media & News?
That quote gets to the heart of why I am a media activist (working for structural changes in the media industry, fighting media mergers, advocating for net neutrality, and supporting independent media), in addition to my lifelong work as a media critic and media literacy educator. The last twenty years of corporate media consolidation have resulted in a system in which six powerful, multi-merged conglomerates own, operate, and control the majority of what we’re given to read, watch, and hear in print and broadcast journalism, scripted and reality TV, movies, music, children’s programming, and more. These media behemoths hold the reigns of public debate in America, with devastating results. Yes, whoever controls the media controls the culture — and, by proxy, our legislation, our economy, our lives.
When I founded WIMN in late 2001, we were the first media analysis, education, and advocacy group to ever specifically center women as a constituency for media justice. In addition to the media policy work, WIMN has acted to increase women’s presence and power in public debate, both in media content and behind the scenes in the industry. As Executive Director, I lead strategic communications media trainings for gender, racial, economic and other social justice groups, providing the tools and frameworks they need to become effective spokespeople for their causes. I run the POWER Sources Project to connect journalists and media producers with an ethnically, professionally, and geographically diverse set of women experts to serve as sources for their stories. In doing so, we explode the excuse/myth that, “We’d love to quote more women, but there aren’t any qualified women to speak to XYZ.”
The Ginsberg quote is so on-point because other than money in politics, media is the only thing that connects virtually every issue we care about: from rape to racism, hate crimes to war crimes, reproductive justice to climate change. We can never achieve substantive progress without our citizenry having access to accurate, diverse, challenging journalism, and creative, artistic entertainment media. Today’s corporate media prioritize profit over journalistic ethics when producing news (as we recently saw with MSNBC unceremoniously canning their most challenging and unique host, Melissa Harris-Perry). They also prioritize profit over quality storytelling in the entertainment realm, which is the sole reason reality TV is so prevalent.
You examine Ginsberg’s premise in your book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, addressing the common response, “Oh, it’s just entertainment.” You offer a very different point of view.
“Come on, lighten up, it’s just… (a TV show/a movie/a music video/a lying cable news blowhard)” is one of the most destructive attitudes of our time. Regardless of the topic, one of the first things I always say when I do media literacy speeches is that the corporate media has tremendous power, because it is the only institution that connects virtually all Americans. No matter where we live, the majority of us have access to the same television shows, movies, music, magazines, news outlets, and ads. Today, corporate media functions as our most common agent of socialization, helping to shape, inform, and reflect our collective ideas about people, politics and public policy — molding our self-perceptions and how we relate to, and treat, others.
Before I wrote Reality Bites Back, the general attitude toward reality TV in the entertainment press, among fans, and even among most of academia, was that reality television was dumb, harmless fluff with no significant impact ¾ a passing fad that would eventually flame out. But since reality TV is 50 to 75 percent cheaper to produce than scripted TV and often comes with a huge amount of product placement revenue, I knew it was here to stay. I wanted to start a national conversation about how this incredibly influential genre of media has been functioning as backlash against gender and racial justice since the year 2000.
Reality TV has revived regressive, dangerous tropes about what viewers are supposed to believe about women and people of color. If you knew nothing more about American culture than what you saw in reality TV, it would be easy to think the women’s movement and the civil rights movement never happened. But this very calculated set of manipulated images producers and networks have chosen to promote and profit off of is not who we are as women or as people of color. It’s not what America is actually about.
For those unfamiliar with the term “media literacy,” can you give an overview of what that means and why it is so important for women of all backgrounds?
Women, people of color, low income people, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups need to be able to engage with media in active, critical ways, rather than passive viewership. Core media literacy questions teach us how to separate text from subtext, and stated premise from hidden meaning. They help us understand, challenge, and resist deeply inaccurate and biased representations of our communities. Media literacy frameworks encourage us to follow the money, asking who created, produced, distributed, and profited from any given piece of media. What commercial investment may have influenced whose voices were included in the story, and whose were invisible or demonized? Whose values were lauded and whose maligned? And so on.
Your media literacy work on campuses around the country brings an intersectional lens to understanding the media. Can you elaborate?
Everything I do sits at that Venn diagram of media and gender, race, class and sexuality. I wrote Reality Bites Back after speaking with students for ten years about reality TV’s influence over their perceptions of sexism, racism, poverty and wealth, slut-shaming, hyper-consumption and more. My latest multimedia lecture, “Screen Shot: How Media Instigates Gun Violence and Rape Culture,” looks at how misogynistic mass shootings, sexual assault on and off campus, and street harassment are portrayed in journalism, scripted and reality TV, movies, music videos, and advertising. I cover how those depictions make all Americans less safe, and what we can do to change both this media coverage and the culture of violence it supports.
My main goal as a media literacy educator is to get people to banish the phrase “mindless entertainment” from our collective vocabulary. If you like reality TV, or music with questionable lyrics but an impossible-to-resist beat, or movies that don’t pass the Bechtel Test, I don’t care if you keep watching, listening, or enjoying them — as long as you consume with your critical filters turned on. All our faves are problematic, but as active, critical media consumers we can reject harmful stereotypes in journalism and entertainment media, rather than absorbing them unquestioningly.
Most importantly, sexism and racism in media is at the core of all my talks — from politics to war to pop culture.
If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, what do you think the media coverage will look like for her this time around? Will there be any advances over much of the misogyny we saw in 2008?
We don’t have to wait until the nomination results to know that answer. Unfortunately, media coverage of the 2016 election cycle has already been riddled with the same kind of blatantly sexist, irrelevant, non-newsworthy blather that mired treatment of Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008. The only difference in this cycle is that it used to just be gleefully bigoted radio hosts, pundits, and anchors who’d infuse coverage with bottom-feeder narratives like that. Today, we have the GOP’s frontrunner lowering the bar with jabs about women journalists’ menstrual cycles, Carly Fiorina’s wrinkles, all Mexicans as rapists, all Muslims as terrorists, and so on.
Again, and as I’ve been writing since the mid-1990s: It is always appropriate to subject female candidates to the same substantive journalistic scrutiny their male counterparts receive. It is never acceptable, though, to do what the corporate press far too often defaults to: reporting on women in the political sphere as if they are ladies first, and leaders a distant second — if ever.
This article originally appeared on the website Ravishly.
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