Homelessness-Misconceptions & Suggestions

Roger- College Station, Texas
Roger was a man that I met while volunteering at a homeless shelter in College Station. He was incredibly loved by all the students who volunteered at the shelter. At the shelter he was known for breaking misconceptions and encouraging the residents to turn their lives around. In the years that I knew him he began his own flooring business and moved out of the shelter.
(Photo by nana)

As the weather has been getting chillier, a topic that has been on my mind is homelessness.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I was walking out of mass and a homeless man asked me for some change. As someone who rarely carries any cash I painfully shook my head and hoped he believed me when I responded “sorry, I don’t have any”. I then watched as masses of people exited the church saying similar things or just ignoring the man, and I was overcome by a feeling of guilt as I became aware of the hypocrisy of the situation. At the same time, however, I cannot call out hypocrisy without acknowledging that I am not innocent of being part of this do-nothing crowd. It’s easy to fall into your daily routine and ignore the same homeless people you see every day on your way to work. It’s easy to numb that discomfort or even guilt you feel with thoughts about how you have nothing on you to give them, you’re in a hurry, or maybe they’ll use the money that you give them on drugs.

As an optimist however, I choose to believe that there are good people out there. I have been surprised in DC by the amount of people I have seen sitting on the ground talking to the homeless and offering them comfort in the form of a meal, some money or just a conversation. A good friend told me recently that she spends her lunch breaks with a homeless man that sits outside her office everyday. With the limited money she has, she buys him lunch and a newspaper, and nods along to his stories and thoughts that few will ever hear. This is so good. At the same time however, I know many good people who refuse to do something like this due to fears and misconceptions or simply a lack of knowledge about what (if anything) they themselves can do. For this reason, we need to look at statistics and understand the reality of homelessness.

The U.S Council of Economic Advisers stated in their economic report for 2019 that currently, over half a million people in the United States are homeless. About 35% of these people are unsheltered. In terms of numbers, the U.S does have enough beds to house the homeless population every night. What these numbers don’t take into account however are bed shortages that individual cities can experience, as well as the poor conditions of shelters, that often push the homeless to choose a cold night outside over night in a dangerous or unsanitary shelter.

In a radio show by NPR, David Pirtle, an advocate for the homeless, spoke about his own experiences as a homeless man for 2.5 years in D.C. He explains how his untreated schizophrenia made it difficult for him to maintain a job and quickly left him on the streets. Pirtle spoke about how for most his time homeless, he chose the streets over a shelter. He attributes this to his schizophrenia and paranoia as well as the stories he often heard about how “shelters are dangerous places, that they’re full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there are bedbugs and body lice”. He also talked about the difficulty of looking for jobs while staying at homeless shelters which often require people to line up starting at 4:30 pm to get a bed for the night. Pirtle experienced a major turning point when he was arrested for stealing food and instead of being charged, was spared by a judge who put him on medication and placed him in a shelter where he felt safe.

What this story makes me realize is that it’s not as simple as “just go to a shelter”. Those people we see freezing at night may be afraid, mentally ill, prefer something they know over something they don’t, or perhaps could not make it into the shelter they chose to give a try. The director of the Boston Emergency Shelter Commission, James Greene, talked to NPR about his experience as a street outreach worker where he spent years encouraging homeless people to go to shelters. In his description of his work, he commented that it normally takes multiple weeks of building a relationship with someone and establishing trust, in order for them to even consider going to a shelter. In short, it’s not a simple task. 

The next point that I’d like to bring to light is the causes of homelessness. A common belief held by many is that those who are homeless put themselves there, which is easy to say when you are not homeless. The Treatment Advocacy Center found in a study that about 1/3 of the homeless population is struggling with serious mental illnesses. The issue of mentally ill people and homelessness arose when various state-owned mental hospitals closed down in the late 20th century. This issue continues to increase in severity as there are fewer resources and spaces in psychiatric hospitals. Mental illness only intensifies the hardships of being homeless and thousands of people today are left to struggle with something that they cannot control in extremely difficult situations.

Amongst those with mental illnesses, there are many veterans whose life circumstances after serving our country have left them homeless. It is estimated that in a single night in January 2019 37,085 veterans experienced homelessness (National Alliance to End Homelessness). Many of these veterans struggle with PTSD, trauma, substance abuse and other mental health challenges which put them at risk for homelessness. In addition, many veterans lack housing stability, struggle to find a job and lack social and familial support.

Adding to these two major demographics are women, men, children, adolescents and elderly people who have experienced familial or domestic violence and could not find immediate housing. There are also refugees and immigrants who come to the U.S and are forced to live on the streets while they seek help and/or a job. One of the mothers I met at a refugee shelter once told me of the unimaginable month she spent with her babies, homeless after arriving in the United States as a refugee fleeing violence in the DRC.

Underlying many of these causes are many structural factors created by society that limit the space certain people have to move away from homelessness. High unemployment rates, lack of affordable housing and poverty create barriers for those who may already be at a disadvantage. Even in the case of those who have been in prison, have abused drugs or are alcoholics, we as people on the other side are not given the duty of judging.

With this mindset, we can ask ourselves: what can I do? There are a few things.

Educate yourself: This is one thing that you have already started doing just by reading this post (nice!). Continue to educate yourself and others to fight against prejudice and misconceptions.

Carry gift cards: Yes, it is true that you don’t know where the cash you give goes; a safe option is to give gift cards with a couple bucks to places like Walgreens or a restaurant.

Be kind: There’s nothing wrong with saying hello or simply acknowledging someone you see out on the street. Respecting the humanity of everyone is important and can be very valuable to someone who receives little to no interaction with other people. If you’re courageous like my friend, consider buying yourself two sandwiches and share one.

Donate: This is another way you can give money and know exactly where your money will go. Here are some major non-profits in the U.S. that work to help the homeless. Also consider donating clothing that is in good condition. Avoid donating the clothes you have that are torn, stained or very worn out. As mentioned, respecting human dignity is important. You can also reach out to your local homeless shelters and ask if they are looking for any specific types of donations.

Approach the people with signs: Ask them how you can help. Maybe you can buy them a meal, help them locate a shelter, or get them a blanket to fight against the cold.

Carry care-packages: This one I learned from my Abuela who always carried loads of supplies in her little car in Colombia to give to anyone in need. There are dozens of care package how-to’s online but here’s one. Again, aim to put high quality supplies in the bags and not cheap stuff that won’t last. Also be cautious not to mix food and soaps or other items with chemicals.

Volunteer: There are soup kitchens and homeless shelters in nearly every city. Consider giving an hour or so or even consider becoming a regular volunteer. Its extremely valuable to form relationships with people from different walks of life; you’ll always find yourself to be a student to their stories and experiences.

Cash? This one is tricky. There are some economists who worry that giving cash may lead to negative outcomes. Time and time again however, I have heard comments and stories that made me reconsider this. This past Sunday at a Friendsgiving, I set next to a young woman who shared with the group that she was thankful for her home which she did not have just a couple of years ago. In talking about her experiences as a homeless woman, she repeatedly told us “if someone asks you for cash, give it to them”. Considering these statements were made out of her own experience-based feelings, I believe there is a lot of value to them. That being said, it is indeed hard to know where the cash you give out goes, but its up to your own judgement to decide whether or not you choose to take that risk. Regardless, as you can see above, there are many many other ways you can help out.

In reacting to homelessness we should approach the issues not with the intent to simply numb our guilt, but with the intent to actually do something important. Work to reject the prideful thoughts that are used to convince oneself that the people who are homeless deserve it. Catch people in their fears and misconceptions and remind yourself and others that a homeless person may be a mother, a rejected child, a refugee and most importantly, remind yourself that they are a person. They are doing their best, just like everyone else. Instead of questioning them, judging or searching for malintent, remind yourself of the side of life you’re on and consider all of the good that you can do.

Wait for the Marshmallow-Thoughts on Delayed Gratification

With the modernization of society, growing capitalism and better technology, it seems as though we have become accustomed to immediate gratification. On social media we can click “like” and the system will record that information and give you more of what you “like”. We can even “hide” posts we don’t like by clicking a button to make the post disappear. Week long delivery wait periods have become 24 hour, next-day deliveries. Weight loss techniques become fads only when they promise quick results. All of these examples point to our desire as humans to be satisfied immediately and quickly, without thinking about the long-term and deeper effects of these quick decisions.

When Freud analyzed the human personality, he broke it down into three categories: id, ego and superego. The id can easily be remembered as the “kid” part of your personality. It’s based on instincts, desires and needs. Freud believed that the id is the part of your personality that has been present since birth and acts mainly within the unconscious. This “kid” within your unconscious is the part of your brain that functions on the pleasure principle and pushes you to fulfill what you want, as quickly as possible, without much consideration.

The second part of Freud’s three-fold personality description is the ego. This part of the personality keeps the id in check through the reality principle. It works to satisfy your needs but takes into account what is acceptable and appropriate within social norms.

The last element of the bunch is the superego, which can be seen as the “superhero” of the three. The superego goes above the reality principle and considers morals. So while the ego is more based on what is socially okay, the superego considers the individual person’s morals, values and beliefs.

When I think about the way our society is built, I notice how much of it is centered around the id. Society has slowly transformed into a giant playground full of buttons we can press to get that quick satisfaction. Little to no patience required. We rarely have to choose the longer, more complicated route. We like the short, straight path even though the longer one may have exactly what we want and more.

About 40 years ago, Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Columbia University decided to study delayed gratification in an experiment now known as the Marshmallow Experiment. In this experiment, Dr. Mischel presented a preschool aged child with a marshmallow and a proposal. He told the kid that if he was able to wait 10 minutes without eating the marshmallow, he would bring him a second. Later recreations of this experiment show the kids fighting incredibly hard against the urge to eat the fluffy sweet treat, trying to cheat by taking little bites, or just grabbing the marshmallow and eating it whole. Many years after this original experiment, Dr. Mischel revisited the kids that had participated and found some significant differences between those who waited, and those who did not. In addition to higher SAT scores and better academic performance, those who waited were reported to be better planners and better decision makers. Dr. Mischel and many others who followed, have used this study to talk about the benefits of delayed gratification.

By recreating the original experiment with bigger numbers and more diversity, psychologists have found that there are more factors beneath the surface that determine the children’s later success in life. One of the main arguments used is that overall, rich kids do better than poor kids in practicing delayed gratifcation because their conditions have allowed them to have the option to choose to wait. On the other hand, children in lower classes may not have that option. In addition to pointing out the reality of cyclical poverty, what this finding shows is that our ability to choose delayed gratification, is mainly social based. This can be used positively by making us think and consider the types of social structure that have been placed in our lives and the lives of others that may prevent us from choosing to wait for the second marshmallow.

Frankly, where I’m at in my life would put me in the group of kids that maybe waits a little but ultimately devours that marshmallow. I currently work in a temporary position and as a recent college graduate, I feel a pressure to figure things out and figure them out now. Making quick decisions is an everyday temptation and I crave quick satisfaction and fast success. My awareness of this however has encouraged me to work to delay things, with the understanding that waiting, brings good things. I do that through little actions, such as cooking for an hour a night to save money and eat healthier instead of just buying a quick meal on the way home from work. I also do it in big ways such as committing to a long distance relationship that requires a lot of waiting but has proved to be extremely valuable and fulfilling. I’ve also learned to wait in my career through understanding that I may not find my dream job now, but can soak in the experiences that I do have, and learn from them.

Lastly, in awareness of the limitations that may urge me to choose the fast pass, I also work to be aware of the privileges that allow me to wait. For one, I am young. Time is on my side and while the kid in me (or the id in me), will sometimes yell in my ear “I want it now!”, I have the ability to say “no, you’ll have it later”. I am healthy and don’t have any dire concerns. And most importantly, I have established a support system of people who care for me. With these things in mind, when I do have the opportunity to wait, I can more easily choose to do so knowing that I can and that a second marshmallow is in store.

Links to Walter Mischel’s studies can be found here and here.

Uyghur Suppression- What’s happening and What’s our Impact.

When we hear words such as internment camps and slavery, we normally think of the past and phrases like “never again”, which are often pasted on museum walls and memorials. We shake our heads with disapproval and think “thank God that is over”. The issue that is currently occurring with the Uyghur people in China however, proves that it is not entirely over. For this reason, it is important that we are informed on the injustices that occur world-wide and understand what sort of role we play as actors or bystanders.

We can begin by asking: who are the Uyghurs (pronouced wee-gurs)?

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic minority group who have resided in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, China for hundreds of years. Xinjiang has historically been an economically prosperous region which has incentivized Beijing to maintain strict control of the region. Uyghurs share this area with the Han ethnic majority group who, drawn by vast resources and economic prosperity, migrated in great scale to the region. The Uyghurs who used to be the majority group in Xinjiang, quickly became ethnic minorities and victims to economic inequality. Cohabitation between these two groups and debate on ownership and nativity to this land, have added to the points of tension along with cultural and religious differences.

The Chinese government has been key in exacerbating these tensions by enacting various laws to stifle the Uyghur Muslim culture. In 2017, the Chinese government enacted a series of laws that prohibited “expressions of extremification”. These laws forbid traditionally muslim practices such as having a beard or wearing a veil, and ban Uyghur customs including traditional weddings and funeral services. Additionally, many mosques have been demolished by the Chinese Government.

Recently, the government took extreme actions and established what they are calling “vocational education institutions”. Without legitimate reason, the government has been detaining Uyghur muslims and forcing them into these camps since around 2014. It is difficult to know how many Uyghurs have been detained due to China’s strict isolation and censorship polices, but experts estimate a number between eight hundred thousand to two million

The reports on what is occurring in these camps are horrific and eerily reflective of past instances of genocide. Detainees within these camps undergo intense brainwashing by being forced to renounce their faith and ethnic identity and studying Chinese propaganda for multiple hours a day. Those who do not comply or show any sign of disagreement are subject to beatings and torture. Women are exposed to severe sexual violence and are often raped by guards and given pills or liquids that result in sterilization. Multiple women have also reported undergoing forced abortions. These abuses continue outside the camps where Uyghur women are forced to marry Han men under the threat that if they do not oblige, they or their loved ones will be sent to the camps. Even further, Uyghurs who have managed to leave China, remain under the control of the government who threatens to hurt or kill their families if they are to speak of the camps. At a recent hearing on this issue, one of the witnesses, Nury Turkel, testified that he was subject to this control and that by attending the hearing, he was putting the lives and freedom of both of his elderly parents at risk.

In addition to using these camps as a way to suppress an ethnic minority group, the Chinese government camps have become a way for the Chinese government to benefit economically from free labor while erasing an entire culture. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report this month in which they explain that Xinjiang produces 84% of China’s cotton and that this number is rising due to government subsidies. China makes up 22% of the global market for cotton and the United States alone imports more than 30% of its apparel from China. Due to these increasing percentages, it has become extremely difficult to avoid becoming an accidental complicit in the forced labor and abuses that are occurring in Xinjiang.

So what can we do?

Smart consumers can play a major role in global market and corporate decisions. A good rule in general is to avoid “fast-fashion shops”. Although companies like H&M have worked to become more ethical, their deep business ties to China make this very difficult. It’s tempting to get your clothes at these cheap and fashionable places (trust me, I know) and going cold turkey on your normal consumer decisions may not be the best option. Instead try exploring other, more ethical clothing brands, and work to make these options become your new go to.

The situation occurring in Xinjiang, China while shocking can feel a bit distant. There are a few things however that we can learn from it:

  • Ethnic genocide and forced labor are not a thing of the past. They are present circumstances and should not go unnoticed.
  • Our consumer decisions have a major role in the lives of other people world-wide. Actively thinking about where we get our clothes and what effects that may have, can go a long way.
  • Suppression of minorities is a human trend. We should be aware of the way in which we ourselves speak of ethnicity, religions and cultures that are different from our own.
  • It is easier for atrocities like this one to occur, when the world stays quiet. By informing ourselves we can start conversations that bring awareness to the issue.

The Western society in which we live, teaches us to be efficient and make quick decisions. We often ignore or are unaware of the effects our decisions have and are slow to practicing active processing of information and mindful decision making. The situation in Xinjiang reminds us that our individual decisions are not always individual as their effect can extend world-wide. With this in mind, we should make our decisions slowly, with empathetic thought and in a way that allows our collective selves to have a positive impact.

To listen to the congressional hearing discussing Xinjiang, China click here.

To read the full CSIS report click here.

Women Wednesday- Agnes Varda

Portrait of Agnes Varda (photo by Alasdair McLellan)

If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes.

– Agnes Varda

[Trigger Warning: this article briefly mentions acts of suicide]

One of the most fantastic ways to push for change is through art. Art is an expression of emotion and emotion is the way we all connect. Agnes Varda, a little woman with a big personality, revealed to us how art can be used as a form of activism by connecting with people to generate empathy and expose the flaws in society. She used film to tell stories that were relatable, bold and stretched the art of filmography. Her talents and authenticity allowed her to thrive in an area previously dominated by men, and allowed her to tell the stories of those who were seldom given a place to speak.

I’ve watched many of Varda’s films and after finishing, I am often glued to my seat, captivated by the story I have just experienced. This is what Varda does, she brings you into her world through film and gives you an experience that expands your understanding of herself and other people.

Le Bonheur (Happiness) which first came out in 1965, is one of those films and a remarkable work of art. On the surface it appears to be a simple story, but once you unravel it, you discover a complex societal truth.

~Spoiler alert! You can skip this next section if you plan on watching Le Bonheur~

In this film we meet Thérèse, her husband and their two beautiful children. Their life appears to be perfect yet we soon find out that François is having an affair. François lives out his affair confidently and is even encouraged by his friends who believe men should have fun and not commit to one woman. Through it all, he appears to believe he is doing nothing wrong and often talks about how he simply loves both women. Eventually, during a peaceful day outdoors, François decides to tell Thérèse about his affair. He tells her in a very light hearted manner and even asks if she can love him more now because of how happy he is with his affair. Thérèse agrees, they kiss and makeup, and everything seems to be fine until François wakes up from his nap and cannot find his wife. After searching, he finally finds her in a lake where she has drowned herself. Shortly after this awful incident, François meets with his lover who ultimately enters fully into his life taking up the role of his former wife and mother to his children.

Dark, I know. The feelings that this story provokes in you are the feelings Varda aims towards, while revealing the idea that society often sees women as replaceable. Through this made up story, with made up characters, Varda tells the real stories of many real women who at some point have felt that they are replaceable. Whether its a woman in an office dominated by men, a mother who feels under-appreciated, or a young girl who experiences objectification for the first time, these stories are real and they are still happening today.

“Yes, we are each unique, but society makes us replaceable because we’re [simply] social functions. We work, we make babies, society runs smoothly. What hurts in this movie is the way the second wife does the same things the first wife did. Le Bonheur is about the way society functions”

– Agnes Varda

Whether or not people agreed with Varda’s thoughts and ideas, they respected her for her talent and bravery in challenging people in their way of thinking. Agnes Varda who passed away this past March, left the world a piece of her heart and mind in her films. She challenges us now, through her films and artwork, to put ourselves in the shoes of all kinds of people, listen to their stories, and see the different landscapes that we may find.

Climate Change, Food Security and Development

“climate change is climbing higher”, Washington, DC Climate Strike 2019
(photo by nana)

In the policy sphere, division on issues is often caused due to a lack of agreement on the importance and reality of an issue. This is something we are sadly seeing on the issue of climate change. On the extreme side, you have those who claim climate change does not exist. And on the not as extreme, but equally harmful side, you have those who deny the imminent importance of climate change, and those who just don’t care. In our developed world, it is a lot easier to take up this attitude and push this issue aside because we feel that it does not affect us directly.

What many do not realize however, is that this attitude and lack of action to fight climate change, is what exacerbates issues such as food insecurity, instability and insecurity worldwide. Those who are already the most vulnerable, in underdeveloped regions of the world, are at the greatest risk of experiencing the effects of climate change. Action to end climate change protects vulnerable people, while lack of action can permanently harm them or may even cost them their lives.

Let’s beginning by looking at one of the regions most affected by climate change: Africa. The African continent is highly dependent on agriculture as a form of employment and way of life. Agriculture makes up for 70% of employment in Africa and accounts for over 25% of total GDP. To understand how high this dependency is, we can look at some of the most dependent countries: Chad (87.19%), Central African Republic (85.64%), DRC (81.93%).

Global Agricultural Dependency
Image from Our World in Data

Rising temperatures along with a rapidly growing population, have created new challenges in Africa’s ability to feed its population. An increase in droughts as well as unpredictable rainfall has made it significantly harder for farmers in Africa to effectively produce crops. The food and water scarcity caused by these extreme and unpredictable weather trends is intensified by the growing population in Africa which is expected to double by 2050.

Climate change and its effects on issues such as food scarcity add to the fragility of a country and the vulnerability of its people. Most underdeveloped countries are already facing insecurity due to a lack of trust in justice systems, lack of protection by governments, weak economies and other chronic issues. Food insecurity will only add to this fragility and civilians’ willingness to join armed groups that promises them stability in the form of belonging, stable meals and empowerment.

The trends we see in African countries may also be applied to other underdeveloped regions in the world. Re-examine the map above and notice the countries that are in purple, and consider their their economic well being and stability. As can be seen, South East Asia is another region that has high dependency on agriculture and is experiencing a rising temperature which has been causing mass flooding and typhoons. Unfortunately for these countries, they are right next door to more developed countries such as China and Japan, that are some of the largest contributors to climate change.

Countries in Central and South America, have also fallen victims to climate change. Coffee for example, a product that many Latin countries are known for, is becoming a dying commodity due to the abnormal weather trends caused by climate change.

Underdeveloped countries have been taking the lead in fighting climate change, as noticed in a recent UN report. The sad news is that for the most part, they are not the ones responsible for climate change. In fact we are. We developed countries are the ones emitting the most carbon emissions and burning the most fossil fuels. The United States’ decision to ignore the issue of climate change will be devastating for generations to come. Instead protecting the vulnerable populations in our world, we have chosen to hide behind them and continue to make irresponsible decisions.

The good news? Our actions can be separate from those of our government and our actions can work to decrease the effects and pace of climate change. This is an issue that connects everyone and requires our full participation. Little things, by lots people can always make a huge difference.

Need some help on what you can do about climate change? Here is a super long list of 100 (!!!) different things you can do.

Women Wednesday- the Women of Liberia

(photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

– through the voice of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2019 Peace conference at the U.S Institute of Peace and listen to the honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia. Under the presidency of this incredible woman, Liberia achieved its first ever peaceful transition of power, and initiated the longest standing democratic government in the history of the country. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a trail blazer in empowering women and making big dreams become a reality. In 2011, Former President Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. For today’s women’s Wednesday I’d like to share the powerful story she shared with us at PeaceCon 2019.

while men continued to fight, the women of Liberia demanded peace.

-Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, PeaceCon 219

“Achieving a lasting peace has been no easy task. Liberia has had to rebuild its government and its institutions, and cope with the lasting effects of traumatic war on its citizens. The peace we have achieved in our successes following conflict, would not have been possible without the women who championed the peace process and demanded a better future.
During this long conflict, women endured sexual violence, watched as their children were abducted or recruited to fight, and bore the pain of losing loved ones to a senseless war. But in the face of this suffering, while men continued to fight, the women of Liberia demanded peace.

Women organized and a number of groups came forward to form the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. These women used their voices, their collective power, to demand change in the name of peace.

These women were responsible for driving Charles Taylor to meet with rebel groups in Ghana, which was the first step in reaching a peace deal. At the negotiations, about 200 women sat outside the presidential palace in Accra. When the men tried to leave the negotiations, the women blocked the exit, refusing to allow the men to leave until a peace deal was reached. It was these women, ordinary women, dedicated to peace who were able to do what traditional peace mechanisms had failed to accomplish.

This short story told by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is just one of many stories of women world-wide who have made their voices heard and fought for peace. The women of Liberia reveal to us the value and strength of women, and their ability to accelerate movement and initiate change. In her speech, Johnson Sirleaf states “durable peace cannot be achieved if women are continually excluded from the table”. When we refuse to let women have a place at the table and participate in peace dialogues and political spheres, we are limiting our own abilities as nations. This story and the story teller teaches us that we should always make space for women. And when it’s our turn, we should push against the doors that block change from happening; even if it means blocking a couple exits.

Impeachment- Explain.

White House in October (photo by nana)

Two weeks ago Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house announced an impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump. Impeachment inquiry, impeachment process, removal…what do all these words mean? How does it all work? Why is it happening? Let’s break it down.

The word impeachment is often confused with the word removal. A president is removed from office through the process of impeachment. These are the steps in the process:

  • Step one: impeachment inquiry. The very first step in the impeachment process is the impeachment inquiry where the House Judiciary Committee begins an investigation of the sitting president.
  • Step two: articles of impeachment. The House Judiciary will collect information to prove that the president has done something impeachable, which is then presented as evidence to the House.
  • Step three: the house votes. In order for the house to impeach the president, there needs to be a majority vote to impeach him. A recent report shows that 223 of the 224 democrats are at least in support of the inquiry.
  • Step four: the senate votes on whether or not to dismiss the impeachment articles. If the the senate majority votes to dismiss the articles, the process ends and Trump remains president. If not, the process continues.
  • Step five: senate holds a trial. In this final phase, the trial managers (appointed by the house) will make a case for the removal of the president. If at least 2/3rds of the senate votes to convict the president, he is removed from office and the Vice President becomes president.

*In addition to these steps, a president may also choose to resign before he is officially removed from office.

Why did the whole impeachment thing start anyways?

The current impeachment process was initiated by a whistle-blower’s complaint that Trump was asking for assistance from the Ukrainian government to dig up some dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden. Now the question up for debate, is this impeachable? Many constitutional experts say yes; this is considered an abuse of power and thus falls under the category of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. In addition to deciding whether the conduct of something is unambiguously impeachable, there also needs to be unambiguous, clear and strong evidence. Unlike the scandal with the Russian interference, in this situation, Trump appears to be the one reaching out to a foreign government for help against a political opponent. Just last week, Trump also publicly called for China to investigate Biden, adding to the evidence being used to show that Trump has been abusing his position as president for his own political interests.

On top of these current allegations, Trump has put himself in some difficult situations that could qualify as impeachable.

  • Targeting political opponents for investigation: In addition to the current situation, Trump has been accused of targeting Hillary Clinton by asking attorney general William Barr to investigate her emails. This has been considered an abuse of powers for political gain and is currently undergoing investigation.
  • Obstruction of justice: Although this is a question that was never fully answered within the Mueller report, there are a few instances that could support this claim. Trump has been accused of intimidating witnesses during the Russian investigation and now. Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence for this claim however is that, while under the Russia investigation, Trump fired former FBI director James Comey and attempted to fire Robert Mueller.
  • Suborning perjury: During the Russian investigation, Trump’s personal attorney of 20 years. Michael Cohen testified that Trump directed him to lie to congress about payments he had made to Trump’s former mistress and to the Trump hotel in Moscow. This is potentially a violation of campaign finance laws.
  • Refusing to reply to subpoenas: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused the subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and the administration has refused subpoenas on various other accounts.

For a great conversation on impeachment, check out this forum hosted by the Brookings Institution titled “Impeachment: What happens now?“. Shout out to Susan Hennessy for her fantastic explanation and points on impeachment (23:26).

So where are we now?

The impeachment inquiry is still underway as the house continues its investigation and meets with witnesses. Over the weekend, tensions between the president and his own party rose as Trump called for impeachment of Sen. Mitt Romney after being criticized by the senator. Other Republicans , including former presidential candidate Joe Walsh have publicly spoken against the president’s actions. On Sunday a second whistle blower was announced and is said to have more information on the President’s interaction with the Ukrainian president.

Things to look out for:

Gordon Sonland, the U.S Ambassador to the EU, is expected to testify tomorrow. Sondland was involved in a series of texts that show a few questionable comments about a planned meeting between Trump and Ukrainian president Vlodymyr Zelensky.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S Ambassador to Ukraine is expected to testify Friday. Yovanovitch was fired in May after many of Trump’s allies claimed she was disloyal to the president.

The White House Subpoena is due October 18th.

The Second Whistleblower. Who is he and what does he have to say? Will there be more whistleblowers? More information should come out in the following weeks.

Despite whether or not you support our current administration, it is important to understand our political process and see the reasons for why things happen the way they do. It is also a good exercise to separate your political beliefs and ask “what is the moral thing to do?” and “what was our founding fathers’ intention when they created the process of impeachment”? Both sides could be either hurt or helped by the impeachment of President Trump. Some argue this would be a terrible political move for Democrats, others argue that this would severely hurt the Republican party. The truth is we don’t know. So we should do our best to look past the politics of things and trust in the process created by our founding fathers. As the public, this is what we can do; trust in our government, while using our own brains to understand things, and truthfully ask ourselves the hard questions.

For live updates on the impeachment process, I recommend Aljazeera which provides less biased news and clear and timely updates.