Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 2

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  

You can read part one on this topic of ethical consumption by clicking here.


Last time, we dipped into the discussion about how to go about incorporating intention into buying practices. Consider this: you’re at the store, hands on an item, and you have a decision to make. For me, that decision is, do I buy the cheap coffee, or do I buy the coffee that’s a bit more expensive but is advertised to be made in a fair trade manner? 

It can seem like a silly question, even petty. But whatever it looks like for each of us, purchasing something we want or need (which is an entirely different subject to discuss) does not always have a clear answer, and it’s important that we ask some questions that will help us unpack those complications.

  1. What makes it difficult to consume ethically? (price, convenience, etc.)
  2. What are some possible responses to these challenges?

When we expand our perspective to realize we’re not the only ones impacted by our shopping decisions, we’ll face some tough questions that challenge our generosity, our budget, and our comfort. As I shared in the first post, I don’t have the means to make a full transformation overnight. So, I take baby steps and hope that I can continue to make incremental changes with the awareness of how my actions impact those around me.


Action Steps

The Journal of Consumer Research did a study back in 2014 to answer this question:

“Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products?”

And they made three motivations: “Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.”

This study confirms that it’s necessary to take both positive and negative actions. For me, I knew that I didn’t have the means to completely transform the way that I consume materials, so I narrowed my decisions down to a couple of integral items in my life: clothing and coffee. I made the negative choice of deciding not to support companies that I couldn’t for sure say were operating ethically, so I’ve been doing as much secondhand shopping as I can. On the other hand, I made the positive choice buy fair trade coffee. So a negative choice might look like a boycott – to completely reject a company by withdrawing your support or saying that you won’t shop there until they reform. A positive choice would be one that actively seeks out organizations that are doing good and supporting them in their difficult work.

  1. Brainstorm: What items do you consider to be necessities? Pick one of those items and consider how you might alter the way that you acquire that item.  
  2. Take the Pledge: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/pledge-be-ethical-consumer

The Catch

While it’s important that we each take ownership of our individual choices, action at the individual level is an incomplete answer. Being an individual ethical consumer is not the answer to the problem of unethical production. As Students for Sustainable Stanford point out, “Ethical consumers also need to realize that a change in the way businesses operate doesn’t only come from consumers’ spending habits. Through political advocacy and education, ethical consumers may have the ability to have stores be held accountable for the things they do to the environment.” It’s important to hold the individual and systemic in conjunction. The enormity of the problem doesn’t exonerate the individual, but the acts of the individual are not enough to completely alter the system.


Going on From Here

Clearly, this is a brief introduction to a vast web of interconnected issues regarding how things are made and how we participate in supply chain. At its surface, the discussion is about which t-shirt to buy. But at its core, these thoughts and dilemmas are about our relationships to each other and to nature. What we’re willing to buy directly implies what kind of treatment we’re willing to allow for our fellow human beings, and though the process can seem like it’s out of our hands, we possess both the individual and collective capacity and responsibility to enact change that will wipe out the injustices in the way items are made and dispensed.

You can take this introduction and go in many directions: into a reflection on privilege, on evaluating necessities, on cross-cultural connections, on advocacy, etc. Whichever thread you latch onto, I hope that you’ll be inspired and challenged to continue leaning in and incorporating thoughtful practice into your life.

I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole: “when we consume, we place ourselves into social relationships with all the people who participate in producing, packaging, exporting and importing, marketing, and selling the goods we buy, and with all of those who participate in providing the services we purchase. Our consumer choices connect us in both good and bad ways to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”


Resources

  1. Fashion and Clothing
    1. App: Good on You: http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
    2. Apps: https://mashable.com/2015/04/24/ethical-fashion-tools/#UiXYSGwLFuqa
    3. List of ethical brands by type of clothing:
      1. http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
      2. http://simplylivandco.com/the-list
      3. Alternative organizations: https://theartofsimple.net/shopping/
    4. Shopping 2nd hand? Look for these materials:
      1. http://moralfibres.co.uk/shop-consciously-fashion/

Works Cited

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916111903.htm

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/our-ethical-ratings/oppressive-regimes-and-their-allies 

https://studentsforasustainablestanford.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-ethical-consumerism

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ethical-consumer-3026072

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-supply-chain  

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-myth-of-the-ethical-shopper/

https://guide.ethical.org.au/guide/browse/guide/?cat=700&subcat=702&type=720

https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/fashion-retailers  

http://www.ejcr.org/ 

 

Above image by fdecomite, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 1

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  


Growing up, one of my favorite family traditions occurred not on a holiday, but the day after one. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, my sisters and I would climb from our beds, bundle up, and jump into the car my dad had warming up. As we shook the sleep from our eyes, he drove us from store to store where we tracked down the deals we saw in store ads the day before. For a long time, Black Friday was almost as magical as Christmas for me.

I’ve retained my thrifty mentality and the fond memories I have of spending time with family, but I’ve also been challenged to interrogate the mentality that pulled me from my bed so early in search of more. As a kid, I didn’t give much thought to where that coveted Barbie toy came from or how it was made. Similarly, as I got older, it was hard for me to spare much care for anything beyond the price a tank top or cute dress. In the rows upon rows of businesses that stretch across our country, few dedicate attention to the narrative attached to merchandise that ends up on the shelves, and yet a story does exist whether we see it or not, whether we know it or not. Though it’s true that we need certain things to function in our lives, I have begun a journey to scrutinize the way that I acquire those necessities, finding that some of them are not necessities at all. This journey has expanded my network of awareness beyond my place in the aisle of a store, making me see connections I didn’t know about before.


Six Degrees of Separation

In the work, Six Degrees of Separation, playwright John Guare assembles a small cast of characters to grapple with the idea that any person can be connected to another by way of six connections between them. This belief creates a web that crisscrosses between all people, pulling us together from opposite ends of the world. One of the main characters, Ouisa Kitteridge, sums up the idea below:

Ouisa Kitteridge: ‘I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names…I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.

– John Guare

With this in mind, think of yourself as a circle with numerous concentric circles surrounding you. Not only are other people six degrees of separation from you, but so are animals and nature. Aware of these connections, how do we answer these questions:

  1. What does it mean to be an ethical consumer?
  2. Who or what is affected by ethical or unethical consumption?


An Additional Perspective

(Click “Watch on Vimeo” if the link doesn’t show up)

*There are certain views expressed in this video that may be uncomfortable and footage that is not necessarily sensitive. In addition to the main points of the video worth pulling from, I think it’s worth having a conversation about the moments where the producers could have made different choices in their video so as not to enforce stereotypes and to preserve the dignity of people they represent.

Episode 7 – Ethical Consumption from Snodger Media on Vimeo.

Main Points

Ethical Consumption: “Being an ethical consumer means, at least, understanding something about how the products we buy were made and then brought to market.”

Who’s responsible for creating an ethical work environment, and what factors influence those decisions? (Below are some of the actors in the supply chain):

  • Factories
  • Government
  • Retailers
  • Consumers

Follow-up Questions:

  1. How does the video display cultural difference explicitly? Implicitly?
  2. Who has power in the supply chain? How is power handled?

Just One Angle

From the moment you become aware of these ethical problems, it can be overwhelming to think about how to go about changing your approach to consumption. One piece of wisdom I learned from a friend is to alter a little piece at a time. While few of us can completely overhaul the way we shop, perhaps all of us can think of one item that we can begin applying more attention to.

Maybe that’s coffee and tea. Maybe it’s chocolate. When we discussed this topic, my housemates decided to focus on fashion and look at the way familiar (and unfamiliar) brands measured up. You can do that here.

Additionally, you can read about some specific issues affecting the fashion industry below:

There is little or no transparency on the conditions behind common processes in most supply chains in the clothing industry. Baptist World Aid and Not For Sale’s 2013 document, The Australian Fashion Report, identified that out of 128 clothing brands, 61% of companies do not know where their garments are manufactured; 76% not know where their garments are weaved, knitted and dyed; and 93% do not know where their cotton is sourced from.

 

Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. (A global spend of $2.6 billion each year). This is more than 10 per cent of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25 per cent of the world’s insecticides. Many of these are the most hazardous pesticides on the market including aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan. These pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighboring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.

 

Sandblasting is what gives your jeans the worn-out look. Under the sandblasting process the denim is smoothed, shaped and cleaned by forcing abrasive particles across it at high speeds. This fashion however comes at a price: the health and even the lives of sandblasting workers.

Sandblasting causes silicosis which the World Health Organization states leads to lung fibrosis and emphysema. In later stages the critical condition can become disabling and is often fatal.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation launched its campaign to eliminate the use of sandblasting in the garment industry in 2009. In 2010 both Levi’s and H&M jointly decided to eliminate the process from their supply chains representing a major breakthrough in the campaign.

 

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton, and the fifth largest exporter. For decades, Uzbekistan has used the forced labor of its schoolchildren starting in the early primary grades, college and university students, and civil servants, to harvest that cotton by hand. The human rights concerns surrounding Uzbek cotton production has lead to a ‘call for a boycott’ of Uzbek cotton from Uzbek and international activists. Around 70 per cent of Uzbekistan cotton is sold to Bangladesh and China, where it is turned into fabric to be used in clothes, sheets and other cotton products to be sold into countries such as Australia.

There are 14 countries where cotton is produced using child labour. Child workers in the cottonseed industry are often in a state of debt bondage and work at least nine hours a day. Pesticides used during production cause health problems for the children and they report experiencing headaches, convulsions and respiratory problems. The long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals have not been measured.

 

There is little transparency as to which clothing items are made by workers who are paid fairly and which clothes are made in sweatshop conditions. Modern-day slavery, which currently affects more than 30 million people, is used throughout the production of many clothing products sold on Australian shelves.

WORKING HOURS. Long working hours and forced overtime are a major concern among garment workers. Factory managers typically push employees to work between 10 and 12 hours, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day. A seven-day working week is becoming the norm during the peak season, particularly in China, despite limits placed by the law.

WAGES. The majority of workers in the global fashion industry, rarely earn more than two dollars a day. Many have to work excessive hours for this meagre amount and struggle to properly feed, clothe and educate their families. The problem is complicated further when the millions of piece- rate workers and homeworkers within the industry are considered. When workers are paid by the number of garments they produce, rather than the number of hours they work, it becomes near-impossible to earn a living wage during a working week.

Women in El Salvador are paid just 29 cents for each $140 Nike NBA jersey they sew. To pay them a living wage, they would earn 58 cents per shirts, 4/10ths of one percent of the retail cost of the shirt.

*From Shop Ethical



Just the Start

We’ve come a long way from the aisle of the store, expanding out to see how many forms of life —people, animals, nature— are affected by the choices we make in the marketplace. But it’s not all despair. Even with giant corporations and government influences on the way the market runs, we should not underestimate the power and responsibility we have as consumers. This is just the start—next week we’ll continue the discussion as we consider just how much power we do have, how we can use it, and some other complications that factor in to the way we can change this system to no longer do damage to those around us, to those with whom we are connected.

Please join the conversation in the comments below. Have I missed something or misspoken? Please let me know!


Above image by Neon Tommy, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Environmental Injustice

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Madi continued the series by sharing about Environmental Justice.  


Environmental Injustice

In February, Madi presented on the topic of environmental injustice. Many people think of environmental justice as passing policies for cleaner oceans or signing the Paris Agreement. In actuality, environmental justice deals exclusively with the intersection of race, class, and public health.

Environmental injustice takes many faces:

Toxic waste sites

Lack of natural resources sovereignty

Lead poisoning

Garbage dump and incinerator siting

Occupational hazards

Air and water pollution



All of these different types of pollution and access to environmental resources are disproportionate when the majority race or socio-economic level of a community is considered. Households of color and those that are labelled as low income are more likely to live beside sources of pollution and health risks, like toxic waste sites, while also more likely to lack access to clean water, air, and land rights.

The history of environmental injustice is rooted in land access. When Europeans colonized America, they stole land from the Indigenous peoples. This land was then co-opted by wealthy white men, some of whom forced slaves to work it. Even when slavery was abolished, black Americans did not have the wealth to own land and were forced to work it again through sharecropping. When black soldiers returned from WWII a few generations later, they too were not allowed to participate in the benefits of the GI Bill (free education, access to a good home, etc.) like their fellow white soldiers were.

While the Civil Rights Movement and the Environmental Movement diverged in the 1960s, the fight for environmental justice was quickly growing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cesar Chavez and the rest of the United Farmworkers fought for fair wages and the banning of certain deadly pesticides while Memphis garbage workers, led by Dr. King, went on strike to demand safer working conditions and wages paid for hours worked. Lois Gibbs brought attention to the severe health risks of living beside toxic waste dumps in Love Canal, NY while an African-American community in Warren County, NC protested a landfill proposal marked for their backyard. Even up until today, we still see high rates of asthma in black children living in urban neighborhoods, the fight to stop the building of pipelines running through water sources of marginalized communities, and the bombing of Pagan and Tinian. The fight for environmental justice is not a chapter of American history that is about to close—in fact, it is only just beginning.

The Church has a huge role in this fight. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” We often forget that in the Creation story, we were created second. God created the rest of the earth and saw it as good. Our first task as humans was to be stewards and caretakers of the garden—and God never told us that our job was finished. We also need to “Rescue the poor and needy: deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). This is not equivalent to the paternalistic holier-than-thou tone that the Western church has often had. Rather, this requires working side by side with our neighbors who are suffering, giving them the mic so that they can be heard, and choosing to do what’s best for the health of all of our collective future generations.

If you’re interested in learning more about environmental justice, check out the writings and work of Berta Cacares, Dr. Robert Bullard, Wangari Maathai, and Winona LaDuke.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Elisabeth about ethical consumption of clothing and other items.


Above image by Lorie Shaull, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Mental Health

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Katie continued the series by sharing about mental health. 


Mental Health In America

Mental health is a social justice issue that affects all Americans. The following statistics are gathered from the National Institute of Mental Health.

  • Over 44 million Americans (18.9%) have a mental health condition
  • 12.63% of American youth experience Major Depressive Disorder; 62% receive no treatment
  • 1 in 5 (9 million) Americans report unmet Mental Health needs
  • Pennsylvania mental health rankings (lower numbers mean low mental illness occurrences and high access to care)
    • 14th overall
    • 21st in adult treatment
    • 6th in youth treatment
    • 15th in prevalence of cases
    • 13th in access to care
  • Policy concerning mental health
    • Opioid crisis – 2018-present
    • Mental Health Reform – 2016
    • Prevention reform – 2015
    • Early ID/ Intervention – 2015
  • Mental health affects other social justice issues
    • Criminal Reform
    • Homelessness
    • Addiction
    • Veterans Issues

Mental health is a serious issue. Know that if you are struggling, you are not alone. Talk to your primary care doctor about any concerns you may have or reach out to one of these resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room
  • Current and former service members may face different mental health issues than the general public. For resources for both service members and veterans, please visit https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans

Veterans Crisis Line : Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Madi about environmental injustice.


Above image by Josep Ma. Rosell, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Place and Space

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Chloe continued the series by sharing about Place and Space.  


Place and Space

“How could our hearts be large enough for heaven if they are not large enough for earth?” – Scott Russell Sanders

Close your eyes and think of your favorite place besides your home in a town, city, or village that you’ve spent a lot of time in.

Open your eyes and reflect on the place you chose. Why did you choose it? Do you have a memory or memories associated with that place? What makes that place comforting, exciting, or necessary to you?

When geographers talk about “place,” they aren’t just talking about a physical location. In fact, there are three fundamental aspects that create a “place.” First, there is the fixed, objective aspect of place: it is a location that can be found on a map. Second, there is the “locale” of place. Locale refers to both the materials that make up the place whether that be bricks and mortar or grass and swing-sets as well as the history of the place.  And finally there is the “sense” of place: the subjective, emotional, and personal attachment that individuals have for that place. Place is a meaningful location formed through ritual and routine. It is the local library down the road or the grassy public park behind the school. Space, on the other hand, is an undefined area without these layers of personal and shared meaning.

When we think about “environmental issues,” sometimes our minds go straight to Nature, or the idea of wild animals living in far-away lands untouched by humans.  When we think about Creation Care, we might think about protecting endangered species or national parks. It isn’t about people.

In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders describes his childhood home in rural Ohio, now scarred and polluted. Grieving for the destruction of this place he loves, Sanders says:

“We had no shared lore, no literature, no art to root us there, to give us courage, to help us stand our ground. The only maps we had were those issued by the state, showing a maze of numbered lines stretched over emptiness. The Ohio landscape never showed up on postcards or posters, never unfurled like tapestry in films, rarely filled even a paragraph in books.”

This destruction of places is deeply connected to our nation’s racist history. White settlers, for example, saw this land as empty space, while the Native Americans that already lived here saw the land as a place, full of memory and meaning. What might be empty space for us, might be a sacred place for someone else.

The way that we see place and space has everything to do with the racism and ecological devastation built into our system. The theologian and pastor, Dr. Willie Jennings describes in his lecture “The Origin of Race,” the relationship between race and place, and he reveals the Church’s involvement in creating the current system of injustice. Sanctioned by the Church, White settlers forcibly displaced both Native Americans and the Africans that were brought to the Americas as slaves, violently separating them from the places that were steeped in generations of meaning and cultural identity. Jennings says this trauma has become a part of the land itself as well as generational trauma of those peoples. And he reveals what our role can be in addressing this injustice and generational trauma.

First, he tells us to both learn the history of our places and the spaces and to tell their stories. We must start asking questions like, who lived here before I did? What was this building before it was a library or a church? And who are my neighbors, past and present? Through her placement at Messiah College’s Center for Public Humanities, corps member Elisabeth connects with students who work on a project called Digital Harrisburg, an online curation of the social history of Harrisburg, which includes interactive historical maps of the city as well as a series of place-based oral histories called the “Finding Home Collection.” You can learn more about the history of Harrisburg as a place and the ongoing efforts to tell those stories here: https://digitalharrisburg.com/

Second, Jennings urges us to involve ourselves in what he calls the geographic shaping of our cities, towns, and villages. The fact that poverty can lie across train tracks, or a river, or sometimes just a few streets over from wealth is no accident. It is all based on human-made decisions that become policy through city planning and zoning. And because they are human-made, we can speak out and change them. You can learn more about racially-discriminating practices like redlining here: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/what-is-redlining, or find a City of Harrisburg planning commission or zoning hearing board meeting here: https://cityofharrisburg.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002346628-2019-HARB-ZHB-and-Planning-Commission-Schedule

And finally, Jennings says that we must reframe our theological and cultural ideas around Christian discipleship to focus on the here and now of place. He asserts that the Church’s historical emphasis on time and God’s kingdom as a future reality in a “New Heaven and Earth” is a heresy, declaring that space and place are just as important to God as time. Because of this, we need to develop a vision for the redemption of our spaces and places, of cities like Harrisburg. For Episcopalians, we have spiritual disciplines and practices, like prayer in the Daily Office or the liturgical calendar, that focus on the temporal aspect of our incarnate faith. But what about the spatial? How do we embrace our local places and spaces? What can you do now in the season of Lent to learn, confess, or fight the injustice within your city, town, or village?

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Katie about mental health.


Dr. Willie Jenning’s lecture “The Origin of Race” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ZGwuwcHV0&t=2542s

Scott Russell Sanders, “Buckeye,” https://www.terrain.org/essays/29/sanders.htm

Tim Cresswell, Place: an Introduction

Above image by Manchester Archives+ in the public domain.

Behind the Placement: Madi

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello, Sycamore Blog Reader!

It’s hard to believe that we’re nearly halfway through our service year here in Harrisburg. It feels like just yesterday that I moved to Front Street and began waking up each morning to the sight of the beautiful Susquehanna. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on all of the projects and tasks I’ve completed since beginning my placement at the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project (PULP) and the Community Justice Project (CJP).

PULP and CJP are both legal aid organizations, which represent both individual and groups of clients that would not otherwise be able to afford an attorney. PULP helps low-income electricity, gas, and water customers who have difficulty affording their bills or have recently been terminated. Much of PULP’s work centers on statewide issues related to access to utility services. CJP focuses on the civil rights of low-income communities, and their cases involve anything from domestic violence law to immigration law.

My job has a lot of variation, depending on the number of projects or meetings I have each day. I started off the year helping with research for a couple of big utility rate cases. When utility companies raise their rates, there is often a chunk of their customer base that cannot afford their higher bills. They may be on a fixed income or working a job with a low hourly wage, and if their electricity or heat bills are raised, they are at higher risk of service termination. This is a huge problem because it is difficult to have a happy and healthy home without electricity, heat, or water.

Contrary to what is shown in TV shows and movies, utility rate cases do not often involve glamorous and emotion-packed courtroom speeches or debates. Instead, there are hours and hours of behind-the-scenes work involving tedious reading just to get one citation’s worth of supporting evidence in a three hundred page-long written testimony. Perhaps this sounds like boring work to you, but to me, it is an exciting treasure hunt. I get to learn a lot while reading through different studies and laws and the pages and pages of reading are always worth the golden nugget of evidence that I’m looking for. I enjoy long-term, in-depth projects that require a lot of creative problem solving and critical thinking—and legal research certainly checks off boxes in all of those categories.

That’s not to say that my placement only involves staring at a screen for hours at a time. I have had many wonderful opportunities to go to conferences and meetings to learn more about other areas of law and government. In the fall, I was able to attend the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network’s annual conference, where legal aid attorneys from across the state came to Harrisburg and spent a day attending and presenting on their areas of legal expertise. I’ve been able to attend brainstorming policy sessions, presentations on housing law, and webinars about current legal issues. I’ve even been able to network with lawyers across the East Coast practicing the types of law and winning cases that I can only dream of.

However, my favorite tasks at my placements involve community engagement. At CJP, I’ve had many opportunities to mail letters to potential clients and create advertisements for free events offering legal advice. One long-term project at PULP serves the community members of Schuylkill County, where a disproportionate number of citizens are finding it difficult to afford water service. We are working with local community organizations and governments to collectively brainstorm and implement solutions to make water more affordable. PULP also has an advisory group made up mostly of former clients. They give meaningful insight about what’s going on in their communities and help PULP to decide what cases and projects to pursue.

Before my year with the Episcopal Service Corps, I was on the fence about law school. Now, halfway through my service year, I have since hopped off the fence and took off running towards preparations for the LSATs. I find great urgency and importance in the work being done at my placements, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience so many sides of the practice of law, as well as to finally have discernment for my future vocation.

-Madi Keaton


Above image by Amy, used with permission under a Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

Social Justice Session: School to Prison Pipeline

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Ben started us out by providing insight into the School to Prison Pipeline cycle. 


School To Prison Pipeline

What is the School to Prison Pipeline?

  • A national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
  • Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline

Disparities this Creates:

  • One report found that black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once
  • Another report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.

What is Causing This Epidemic?

  • Inadequate resources in public schools
  • Zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances
  • School resource officers patrolling school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth

Ways to Avoid the Pipeline:

  • Create supportive, healthy environments in schools
  • Provide flexible ways of intervention that account for the unique backgrounds that these children come from
  • Train teachers on the use of positive behavior support for at-risk student

Have Any Questions or Comments? Join the discussion in our comments section! 


Ben Shao, Sycamore House MemberBen Shao is a Corps Member with the Sycamore House for the 2018-19 year. His placements are at Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area and Beacon Clinic. Read more about him here: Meet Ben.

 

Above image by Ken Teegardin, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.