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This year J.K. Rowling will celebrate her 50th birthday. To help celebrate this achievement, Always J.K. Rowling is hosting their fourth annual “Light Up Jo’s Birthday” fundraiser for Jo’s charity, Lumos. This year, they want the celebration and honoring of Jo’s birthday to be even bigger and better than in years past (she only turns 50 once in a lifetime). In the last four years, “Light Up Jo’s Birthday” has raised more than 7,500 pounds for Lumos. This year, if the draw of giving back to the community isn’t enough, Always J.K. Rowling is offering prizes to encourage participation. Prizes include:
-A signed copy of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
– A limited edition, illustrated copy of A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, signed by the author and the illustrator, Ted Nasmith
– A rare dust jacket from an unsold version of A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin, signed by the author
Donations will be taken throughout the month of July, leading up to J.K. Rowling’s (and Harry Potter’s) birthday. You can enter to win prizes without donating, though donations are strongly encouraged. There is no residential or age limitation on the prizes. More information about how to donate and how to enter the prize draw can be found on the “Light Up Jo’s Birthday” donation page. Please share this news on social media to encourage more to help donate.
Today I was really riled up by Global Citizen's post : 'If girls would complete their primary education, maternal deaths would decrease by 70%'.
Someone please explain this daft statement to me because I cannot see how having completed high school will help a woman who has no access to a clean, well-equipped medical facility!
I think that is the stupidest oversimplification of a very serious social problem. What expectant mothers need is proper nutrition and support. They need medical care during and after the pregnancy, and during the birthing process.
And that brings me to what I call the 'Education Fraud.' There has been this concerted effort by everyone in the 'do-good' field to make us believe that setting up schools is the answer to everything. From Malala's claims of how important education is to her country (it is, but so much more needs to be addressed before setting up schools) to people signing off parts of their paychecks to help some child learn his abcd's in a remote corner of the world, we all have bought into the concept of investing in schooling. It is great, but it is pointless if it is not predicated on more pressing priorities. And especially when we are already rethinking our entire learning system!
I was always irritated with Greg Mortenson's idea. It bothered me that he thought kids who were covering their frost-bitten feet with straw should be thrilled with the pencils he provided. The deprivation those children were experiencing, they would be thrilled with anything. Electricity, plumbing, water, maybe even chocolates.....? I will not accept that that the joy of learning something new (for it is a joy) is more important that basic human needs. And incomprehensible soundbites like the one that leads this write-up do not convince me. My cook's son goes to a school where where most of the students come from well-to-do families. Along with the theorems and grammar, he learns how disadvantaged he is and how different from his friends. He is a very unhappy child.
I work for an organization that sets up schools in under-resourced communities in Punjab. It is a unique model. All the children come from one community. Besides the basic food and clothing, we ensure that the children learn to express their hopes and fears. There is no set curriculum; the aim is to provide a safe nurturing environment for them to develop their potential. It is not schooling as much as it is nurturing and support. the concentration remains on what they need, not what we would like them to have.
Poverty is a much more insidious evil than a simple lack of opportunity for the affected community. It affects the mindset of a people, it affects the spirit, it affects their thinking. Recent research proves it affects both mind and brain. More pertinently, it results in markedly uncomfortable living situations and limits people's access to facilities that everyone has a right to. Poverty is a disease, and it, like any other disease, has to be given the proper antidote. I can assure you that that antidote is not a pencil or a blackboard.
About 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world are suffering from chronic undernourishment. This is a 2015 UN statistic. Each one of these individuals, children and the mothers-to-be included, are hungry and afraid. Their main worry is how to fend off hunger pangs, where to get clean water from, and what livelihood to find that will sustain them. It is our collective responsibility to make food and stability a priority, for all people everywhere in the world. Education is only the next step. We should move to that step only after we have lived up to our humanity; after every individual in our race is safe from hunger and strife. it is not education but the freedom from hunger and oppression is the most basic human right that we absolutely must address.
Lumos tweeted that they have been awarded the Charity Award of International Aid and Development for their work in Moldova. Lumos is working in Moldova to create an Inclusive Education program. This program works to ensure that kids with disabilities have equal access to “universal services,” such as education. Lumos believes that this is a crucial step in ending the institutionalization of children. Lumos discussed their work in an article on their web page a couple of years ago:
During a conference in November 2013, Lumos and the Ministry of Education in Moldova were able show that developing these much-needed services is achievable.
The conference brought together 200 policy makers, teachers, government officials, education specialists and professionals from non-governmental organisations to highlight not only the achievements made in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, but highlight the crucial link between inclusive education, deinstitutionalisation and the reform of services for children and families.
Participants were also able see the services for themselves and were able to take part in the inaugural opening of two resource centers for inclusive education in Ialoveni region. They also heard from a number of the 570 children who had left residential institutions, who are now growing up within families and are now accessing education in their community and alongside their friends and peers.
If you would like to donate, or support Lumos in any way, please visit Lumos’ website. Please join us here at Leaky in congratulating all those who dedicate their hardwork and efforts to Lumos, as well as J.K. Rowling.
This is your chance to own a unique piece of original art by one of the UK’s best and most popular illustrators. Come along on the night to bid on one of several framed pieces of art – each depicting the famous Bath Children’s Literature Red Chair. Amazing artists including including Chris Riddell (Goth Girl), Ben Cort(Aliens love Underpants), Nick Sharratt (The Story of Tracey Beaker), Korky Paul (Winnie the Witch), Alison Jay (Welcome to the Zoo), Michael Foreman (War Game) and Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo) have all donated pieces featuring their own, entertaining interpretation of the Festivals’ iconic red storytelling chair. Help secure the future of the Bath Festivals internationally renowned programme of popular Festivals and be in with a chance of acquiring a piece of artwork to treasure for your family, school or business. An Online Auction of many more Artworks will be launched on the night.
My picture is painted using all materials I have picked for the art lessons and workshops I'll be giving soon via The Kraken Studio - all cheap stuff but really nice.
Go and admire the rest, there are some Mighty Fine Red Chairs to be had.
John the Lion, the handsome fellow I have sketched several times at the Cincinnati Zoo
I have a sketch for sale of John the Lion that will benefit The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado to build funds in order for them to bring in and care for 33 lions and 1 Andean bear just being rescued from circuses.
I call myself a moral philosopher. However, I sometimes worry that I might actually be an immoral philosopher. I worry that there might be something morally wrong with making the arguments I make. Let me explain.
When it comes to preventing poverty related deaths, it is almost universally agreed that Peter Singer is one of the good guys. His landmark 1971 article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (FAM), not only launched a rich new area of philosophical discussion, but also led to millions in donations to famine relief. In the month after Singer restated the argument from FAM in a piece in the New York Times, UNICEF and OXFAM claimed to have received about $660, 000 more than they usually took in from the phone numbers given in the piece. His organisation, “The Life You Can Save”, used to keep a running estimate of total donations generated. When I last checked the website on 13th February 2012, this figure stood at $62, 741, 848.
Singer argues that the typical person living in an affluent country is morally required to give most of his or her money away to prevent poverty related deaths. To fail to give as much as you can to charities that save children dying of poverty is every bit as bad as walking past a child drowning in a pond because you don’t want to ruin your new shoes. Singer argues that any difference between the child in the pond and the child dying of poverty is morally irrelevant, so failure to help must be morally equivalent. For an approachable version of his argument see Peter Unger, who developed and refined Singer’s arguments in his 1996 book, Living High and Letting Die.
I’ve argued that Singer and Unger are wrong: failing to donate to charity is not equivalent to walking past a drowning child. Morality does – and must – pay attention to features such as distance, personal connection and how many other people are in a position to help. I defend what seems to me to be the commonsense position that while most people are required to give much more than they currently do to charities such as Oxfam, they are not required to give the extreme proportions suggested by Singer and Unger.
So, Singer and Unger are the good guys when it comes to debates on poverty-related death. I’m arguing that Singer and Unger are wrong. I’m arguing against the good guys. Does that make me one of the bad guys? It is true that my own position is that most people are required to give more than they do. But isn’t there still something morally dubious about arguing for weaker moral requirements to save lives? Singer and Unger’s position is clear and easy to understand. It offers a strong call to action that seems to actually work – to make people put their hands in their pockets. Isn’t it wrong to risk jeopardising that given the possibility that people will focus only on the arguments I give against extreme requirements to aid?
On reflection, I don’t think what I do is immoral philosophy. The job of moral philosophers is to help people to decide what to believe about moral issues on the basis of reasoned reflection. Moral philosophers provide arguments and critique the arguments of others. We won’t be able to do this properly if we shy away from attacking some arguments because it is good for people to believe them.
In addition, the Singer/Unger position doesn’t really offer a clear, simple conclusion about what to do. For Singer and Unger, there is a nice simple answer about what morality requires us to do: keep giving until giving more would cost us something more morally significant than the harm we could prevent; in other words, keep giving till you have given most of your money away. However, this doesn’t translate into a simple answer about what we should do, overall. For, on Singer’s view, we might not be rationally required or overall required to do what we are morally required to.
This need to separate moral requirements from overall requirements is a result of the extreme, impersonal view of morality espoused by Singer. The demands of Singer’s morality are so extreme it must sometimes be reasonable to ignore them. A more modest understanding of morality, which takes into account the agent’s special concern with what is near and dear to her, avoids this problem. Its demands are reasonable so cannot be reasonably ignored. Looked at in this way, my position gives a clearer and simpler answer to the question of what we should do in response to global poverty. It tells us both what is morally and rationally required. Providing such an answer surely can’t be immoral philosophy.
Headline image credit: Devil gate, Paris, by PHGCOM (Own work). CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
So we are back to my favorite topic - charity. In a previous write-up, I discussed how giving away money from a stockpile of it is not necessarily noble. By extension, the concept also applies to giving away time when you have a lot of it on your hands.
But it is not so. Giving of yourself - effort, emotional attention and time - is much more difficult than writing a check, and requires real commitment. Our values are sorely tested when you have to take time out of an already full day to go do something to bring succor to someone else. It is easier if that person is someone you care about, so friends and family are a different story altogether. But when it is someone you do not even know, or even relate to well, it calls on every bit of strength in your belief system. It is also a great way to test your own commitment to a cause.
As difficult as it is to reach out to an individual you cannot really connect with, in sympathy or otherwise, it becomes just as important to accept them and their needs. And that is a crucial factor in philanthropy. I have heard the common dictum that talks of finding your own cause, something that you feel for. I think that is a really misguided notion.The cause should be where the need is most dire. Because helping where help is needed most is what charity is all about. I might think kids need to be in school, but what the kids really need is food and clothing first. I cannot give them a book instead of bread just so I can feel good about myself, or because I had that extra book to give away. That is a gift, not charity
Another important part is being non-judgmental when assessing need. Wondering why a needy family does not manage time better, or have fewer kids, or be less whiny is not a factor in deciding their need. Charity in its purest form must be unselfish, and that means your prejudices and opinions should be irrelevant to the act of giving.
I believe the defining nature of any charitable act is the establishment of a feeling of hope in the receiver. Hope is not just an optimistic wish, or a pleasant vision of the future. It is also a reflection of joy and satisfaction in the present. So when you fulfill an immediate need, or remove an imminent distress, it gives the person such relief that it translates to hope - hope in the present day for a better day tomorrow. And that is why it is imperative and unquestionable that we provide for the requirement, irrespective of what we think or have or want to contribute.
Altruism is predicated on doing good for others. It does not include the right to decide what is good for them, or to classify their needs according to our priorities. Or to withhold charity because of the recipient's attitude. It was Mother Theresa who put it so lucidly, "It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving." And how much effort, she may have well added.
On this day in 1984, musical aficionados from the worlds of pop and rock came together to record the iconic ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ single for Band Aid. The single has gone down in history as an example of the power of music to help right the wrongs in the world. The song leapt to the number one spot over the Christmas of 1984, selling over a million copies in under a week and totalling sales of three million by the end of that year. The Band Aid super-group featured the cream of eighties pop, including David Bowie, Phil Collins, George Michael, Sting, Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney.
The sales target for the single was £70,000, all of which was to be donated to the African famine relief fund. With support from Radio 1 DJs and a Top of the Pops Christmas Special, sales sky-rocketed and Geldof, feeling the strength of public opinion behind him, went toe-to-toe with the conservative government in an attempt to have tax on the single waived. Margaret Thatcher initially refused the plea, but as public outcry grew, Thatcher caved-in to public demands and the tax on sales worth nearly £9 million was donated back to charity.
Bob Geldof and a host of artists old and new have re-recorded the single to help raise funds to stem the Ebola crisis. Our infographic marks the 30th anniversary of the original recording and illustrates the movers and shakers that made this monumental milestone in pop history possible.
Alex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex […]
The ONE series is about raising awareness and raising funds for charity. Along the way, we get a little emotional, but sometimes have some fun. The latest story has a little of both.
2013 Story Eight
The Trucker Angel
by Janet Beasley
This is where knowing the author in person becomes such a treat. Everything that Janet wrote in this story is as honest and sincere as she is in real life. Normally, the author's stories are flights of fancy and epic adventures. I jokingly say this is mature writing for her.
All kidding aside, this story is packed with emotion and faith. She speaks briefly about her mother's condition, but one can read its effect throughout the entire piece. This story is sentimental without being sobby and mystifying without being cheesy.
The big question for me is "Did she see what she says she saw?" The answer may simply be that we all see what we need to see at certain moments in our life. An element of confidence and security comes from our faith. We feel good knowing that a higher power is watching out for us. Ultimately, I feel that is the author's message and one worth sharing.
About the book: 100% of the author’s proceeds will be donated to Bridge to Ability Specialized Learning Center, a not-for-profit organization serving the educational and therapeutic needs of fragile children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. www.BridgeToAbility.org. The authors, creator and publisher are in no other way affiliated with this organization.
Mark Miller’s One 2013 is a spiritual anthology examining True-Life experiences of Authors and their Faith. As the series evolves expect to discover what it means to have faith, no matter what that faith is and no matter where they live. Remember that we are all part of this One World.
In Story Eight, Janet Beasley tells of a supernatural experience that reaffirmed her faith. Before she was a best-selling author, she was a daughter. One of her simple pleasures has always been lunch with her mother. During one of these outings, Janet and her mother witnessed the unexplainable and believe it saved their lives.
About the author: Janet Beasley, best selling author of The Hidden Earth Series (a six novel series), is successfully carving her niche` in the inspirational epic fantasy genre for middle grades and YAs. Even the young at heart are enjoying the escape her writing style presents.
Her debut novel, Maycly the Trilogy, raised to the top 3 on the Amazon Religious Fantasy charts, and landed ahead of the Hunger Games on yet another. By appearing at local and out-of-state events, book signings, and speaking engagements, audiences are now perking up when they hear this author’s name…and it’s not just for her fantasy novels. Janet works with her sister and full time illustrator, Dar Bagby, to create more than just stories. Volume 1 Maycly the Trilogy expands by leaps and bounds with two companion books (a full color illustration book and a cook book), as well as an online memorabilia shop, and amazingly enough – gourmet dog treats.
Janet is multi-talented when it comes to her creativity. She excels in multi-media presentations, event planning, has developed a training center and its curriculum for AV technicians, and produced – directed – and served as a theater technician. She has written fiction - non-fiction – stage plays - and an autobiography. She has crafted award winning poetry, been published in anthologies, and trade specific magazines.
Janet enjoys the outdoors by kayaking and hiking with her husband, and photographing nature. She also loves animals (dogs are her favorite), spending time with her family, and baking cupcakes.
The Christmas season is upon us yet again. Yes, my friends, it is a time of giving, loving, and sharing. Within these pages is a way you can help many people desperately in need of love, support, and goodness: the victims of domestic crime. By purchasing this anthology, you are sending every last dime made off this book to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The NCADV is an amazing charity that saves these people and lets them know there is still hope, still goodness, and still a reason to carry on.
Twenty-one authors have joined in this year, giving their time and their stories to these people – and to you. We all hope you enjoy our holiday tales captured in bite-size pieces. Whether you read this on the bus, before bed, or snuggled by the fire, please, do read – and share.
Authors in this anthology:
Angela Yuriko Smith
Monica La Porta
Ron C. Neito
S. Patrick Pothier
*Brandon Eye bonus story
Editor/compiler: Amy Eye of The Eyes for Editing
Cover Design Kyra Smith
This is my most personal blog to date – and the most important. I have an agenda here. I was in the Care system in the UK – and for 21 years found myself in a range of institutions and … Continue reading →
Design vs Cancer is a new project that aims to generate awareness and support people and families fighting cancer. Over the past few months they’ve been working with talented artists to create inspiring and uplifting artwork and now they need your help. They are currently looking to raise $10,000 to launch their inaugural line of shirts & posters. To support their efforts you can help fund their Kickstarter campaign.
So says Lumos. A UK based charity dedicated to getting children out of institutions. Further to my earlier blog about Lumos – the charity chaired by J.K. Rowling – I thought I’d share more about what it is trying to … Continue reading →
Here is the official press release for the upcoming event. (That guy, Mark Miller, sure talks a lot, sheesh...)
The Mount Dora event series Authors in the Park continues with its Second Annual “Spring into Art” festival, Saturday, March 29 at Long and Scott’s Farm in Mount Dora, FL., event chairman Mark Miller announced today. The Authors in the Park group celebrates literacy while promoting local and independent authors from Lake County, Central Florida and beyond. (www.authorsinthepark.com)
The event, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be the first time the group has held an event at Long and Scott’s Farm at 26216 County Road 448A, Mount Dora, Miller said.
“We are extremely excited, not only to be at Long and Scott’s, but because this year’s event will feature both authors and artists,” Miller said. “Long and Scott’s is known for Zellwood Sweet Corn and their fall corn maze as well as being a great supporter of their community.” (www.longandscottfarms.com)
Spring into Art will feature over twenty authors and artists. A wide variety of books will be for sale in all genres and ages, as well as exclusive artwork. Some of the paintings are slated to be sold for charity.
In addition to great books and art, representatives for Team Jay will be on hand, Miller, an author himself, said. Team Jay is a project of the Lake County Firefighters Charity to benefit young Jay, the son of a firefighter currently battling Leukemia. (www.lakefirefightercharity.org)
The outdoor event is free to attend, Miller pointed out. Authors and artists alike will be available to discuss their writing, sign autographs and enjoy a day on the farm. Some author proceeds will be donated to Team Jay and other worthy organizations, he said. Scott’s Country Café will be open for lunch.
However, as various groups pointed out throughout its controversial parliamentary journey, Part 2 of the legislation will also have implications for charities, voluntary societies and non-governmental organisations once it comes into effect. Specifically, in restricting the amount of expenditure that non-party political bodies can spend ahead of a general election, it will severely curtail their lobbying, campaigning and advocacy work that has been a standard feature of their activities for some decades.
Understandably the sector has not welcomed the Act. The problem is that the legislation conflates general political lobbying with campaigning for a specific cause that is central to the charitable mission of an organisation. Sector leaders have critiqued the Bill as ‘awful’, ‘an absolute mess’ and ‘a real threat to democracy’.
It is not difficult to see why. The impact of charities on legislation in Britain has been profound and the examples run into many hundreds of specific Acts of Parliament. To mention but a few, a whole range of environmental groups successfully lobbied for the Climate Change Act 2008. Homelessness charities such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group fought a battle for many years that resulted in the Housing Act 1977. The 1969 abolition of the death penalty can be partly attributed to the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment and two pieces of legislation in 1967, the Sexual Offences Act and the Abortion Act, were very much influenced by the work of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and the Abortion Law Reform Association.
The list could run on and on, but the impact of advocacy by charities on the policy process has become far more extensive than the straightforward lobbying of MPs. Charities have been key witnesses in Royal Commissions, for instance. From the 1944 Commission on Equal Pay Act through to the 1993 Commission on Criminal Justice, voluntary organisations contributed over a 1,000 written submissions. At Whitehall, they have sought a continued presence along the corridors of power in much the same manner as commercial lobbying firms. They have achieved much through the often hidden and usually imprecise, unquantifiable and unknowable interpersonal relationships fostered with key civil servants, both senior and junior.
In more recent years, charities have taken advantage of early day motions in the House of Commons. Once infrequently employed, by the first decade of the 21st century, there were on average 1,875 early day motions in each parliamentary session. The most notable have managed to secure over 300 signatures and it is here that the influence of charities is particularly apparent. The topics that obtain such general — and cross-party — support have tended to be in the fields of disability, drugs, rights, public health, the environment, and road safety; all subjects on which charities have been particularly effective campaigners.
Not all of these lobbying activities have been successful. Leaders of charities have often expressed their frustration at being unable to influence politicians who refuse to listen, else being outgunned and out-voiced by lobbyists with greater financial muscle supporting their work. But the important point is that charities have had to engage in the political arena and it is the norm for them to do so. To restrict these activities now — even if only in the year in the run-up to a general election — actually serves to turn back a dominant trend in democratic participation that has come increasingly to the fore in contemporary Britain.
Having explored the history of charities, voluntary organisations and NGOs, tracing their growing power, influence and support, we found was that rather than there having been a decline in democracy over the last few decades there has actually been substantial shifts in how politics takes place. While trade unions, political parties and traditional forms of association life have witnessed varying rates of decline, support for environmental groups, humanitarian agencies and a whole range of single-issue campaigning groups has actually increased. Whether these groups represent a better or worse form of political engagement is not really the issue. The point is that the public has chosen to support charities — and charitable activity in the political realm — because ordinary citizens have felt these organisations are better placed to articulate their concerns, interests and values. As such, charities, often working at the frontier of social and political reform, but often alongside governments and the public sector, have become a crucial feature of modern liberal democracy.
One might have expected a government supposedly eager to embrace the ‘Big Society’ particular keen to free these organisations from the bureaucracy of the modern state. But it is quite clear that the Coalition has held a highly skewed, and rather old fashioned, view of appropriate charitable activity. The Conservatives imagined a world of geographically-specific, community self-help groups that might pick up litter on the roadside in their spare time at the weekend and who would never imagine that their role might be, for instance, to demand that local government obtains sufficient resources to ensure that the public sector — acting on the behalf of all citizens and not just a select few — would continue to maintain and beautify the world around us. There are clearly very different views on what charity is and what it should do.
Indeed, it is remarkable that when government spokespeople did comment on the nature of the charitable sector, they were quick to condemn the work of the bigger organisations. Lord Wei, the ‘Big Society tsar’, even went so far as to criticise the larger charities for being ‘bureaucratic and unresponsive to citizens’. With such attitudes it is no wonder the Big Society soon lost any pretence of adherence from the many thousands of bodies connected to the National Council of Voluntary Organisation.
It is tempting to see the particular form the Conservatives hoped the Big Society would take as part and parcel of a policy agenda that is connected to the lobbying bill. That is, there has never been an embrace of charities by Cameron and his ministers as the solution to society’s – and the state’s – ills. Rather, in viewing these developments alongside the huge cuts in public sector funding (which often trickled down to national and community-based charities), there has actually been a sustained attack on the very nature of charity, or at least it has developed as a sector in recent decades. It is no wonder that many charity leaders and CEOs, feeling cut off at the knees by the slashes to their budgets and damaged by the sustained abuse in the press for their mistakenly inflated salaries, now feel the Lobbying Act is seeking to gag their voice as well.
Matthew Hilton is Professor of Social History at the University of Birmingham, and the author of The Politics of Expertise: How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain, along with James McKay, Nicholas Crowson and Jean-François Mouhot. Together they also compiled ‘A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain: Charities, Civil Society and the Voluntary Sector since 1945′ (Palgrave, 2012). All the data contained in these two volumes, as well as that found above, is freely available on their project website.
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Same-sex marriage is having a moment. The accelerating legalization of same-sex marriage at the state level since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, has truly been astonishing. Who is not dumbstruck by the spectacle of legal same-sex marriages performed in a state such as Utah, which criminalized same-sex sexual behavior until 2003? The historical whiplash is dizzying.
Daily headlines announcing the latest changes to the legal landscape of same-sex marriage are feeding public curiosity about the history of such unions, and several of the books that top the “Gay & Lesbian History” bestsellers lists focus on same-sex marriage. However, they tend to focus on the immediate antecedents for today’s legal decisions, rather than the historical roots of the issue.
At first consideration, it may seem anachronistic to describe a same-sex union from the early nineteenth century as a “marriage,” but this is the language that several who knew Charity Bryant (1777-1851) and Sylvia Drake (1784-1868) used at the time. As a young boy growing up in western Vermont during the antebellum era, Hiram Harvey Hurlburt Jr. paid a visit to a tailor shop run by the two women to order a suit of clothes made. Noticing something unusual about the women, Hurlburt asked around town and “heard it mentioned as if Miss Bryant and Miss Drake were married to each other.” Looking back from the vantage of old age, Hurlburt chose to include their story in a handwritten memoir he left to his descendants. Like homespun suits, the women were a relic of frontier Vermont, which was receding swiftly into the distance as the twentieth century surged forward. Once upon a time, Hurlburt recalled for his relatives, two women of unusual character could be known around town as a married couple.
There were many who agreed with Hurlburt. Charity Bryant’s sister-in-law, Sarah Snell Bryant, mother to the beloved antebellum poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant, wrote to the women “I consider you both one as man and wife are one.” The poet himself described his Aunt Sylvia as a “fond wife” to her “husband,” his Aunt Charity. And Charity called Sylvia her “helpmeet,” using one of the most common synonyms for wife in early America.
The evidence that Charity and Sylvia possessed a public reputation as a married couple in their small Vermont town, and among the members of their family, goes a long way to constituting evidence that their union should be labeled as a same-sex marriage and seen as a precedent for today’s struggle. In the legal landscape of the early nineteenth century, “common law” marriages could be verified based on two conditions: a couple’s public reputation as being married, and their sharing of a common residence. Charity and Sylvia fit both those criteria. After they met in the spring of 1807, while Charity was paying a visit to Sylvia’s hometown of Weybridge, Vermont, Charity decided to rent a room in town and invited Sylvia to come live with her. The two commenced their lives together on 3 July 1807, a date that the women regarded as their anniversary forever after. The following year they built their own cottage, initially a twelve-by-twelve foot room, which they moved into on the last day of 1808. They lived there together for the rest of their days, until Charity’s death in 1851 from heart disease. Sylvia lasted another eight years in the cottage, before moving into her older brother’s house for the final years of her life.
The grave of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake. Photo by Rachel Hope Cleves. Do not use without permission.
Of course, Charity and Sylvia did not fit one very important criterion for marriage, common-law or statutory: that the union be established between a man and a woman. But then, their transgression of this requirement likened their union to other transgressive marriages of the age: those between couples where one or both spouses were already married, or where one or both spouses were beneath the age of consent at the formation of the union, or where one spouse was legally enslaved. In each of these latter circumstances, courts called on to pass judgment over questions of inheritance or the division of property sometimes recognized the validity of marriages even where the spouses could not legally be married according to statute. Since Charity and Sylvia never argued over property in life, and since their inheritors did not challenge the terms of the women’s wills which split their common property between their families, the courts never had a reason to rule on the legality of the women’s marriage. Ultimately, the question of whether their union constituted a legal marriage in its time cannot be resolved.
Regardless, it is vital that the history of marriage include relationships socially understood to be marriages as well as those relationships that fit the legal definition. Although the legality of same-sex marriage has been the subject of focused attention in the past decade (and the past year especially), we cannot forget that marriage exists first and foremost as a social fact. To limit the definition of marriage entirely to those who fit within its statutory terms would, for example, exclude two and a half centuries of enslaved Americans from the history of marriage. It would confuse law’s prescriptive powers with a description of reality, and give statute even more power than its oversized claims.
Awareness of how hard-fought the last decade’s legalization battle has been makes it difficult to believe that during the early national era two same-sex partners could really and truly be married. However, a close look at Charity and Sylvia’s story compells us to re-examine our beliefs. History is not a progress narrative, we all know. What’s only just become possible now may have also been possible at points in the past. Historians of the early American republic might want to ask why Charity and Sylvia’s marriage was possible in the first decades of the nineteenth century, whether it would have been so forty years later or forty years before, and what their marriage can tell us about the possibilities for sexual revolution and women’s independence in the years following the Revolution. For historians of any age, Charity and Sylvia’s story is a reminder of the unexpected openings and foreclosures that make the past so much more interesting than our assumptions.
Being a generous person and donating a part of one’s income is something many people—and many religions—believe is important. In their Science of Generosity Survey, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson took a closer look at this practice, particularly concerning Americans, to find not only how much of their income they donated, but how much they said they donated, as illustrated in this infographic.
Refugee identity is often shrouded in suspicion, speculation and rumour. Of course everyone wants to protect “real” refugees, but it often seems – upon reading the papers – that the real challenge is to find them among the interlopers: the “bogus asylum seekers”, the “queue jumpers”, the “illegals”.
Yet these distinctions and definitions shatter the moment we subject them to critical scrutiny. In Syria, no one would deny a terrible refugee crisis is unfolding. Western journalists report from camps in Jordan and Turkey documenting human misery and occasionally commenting on political manoeuvring, but never doubting the refugees’ veracity.
But once these same Syrians leave the overcrowded camps to cross the Mediterranean, a spell transforms these objects of pity into objects of fear. They are no longer “refugees”, but “illegal migrants” and “terrorists”. However data on migrants rescued in the Mediterranean show that up to 80% of those intercepted by the Italian Navy are in fact deserving of asylum, not detention.
Other myths perpetuate suspicion and xenophobia. Every year in the UK, refugee charity and advocacy groups spend precious resources trying to counter tabloid images of a Britain “swamped” by itinerant swan-eaters and Islamic extremists. The truth – that Britain is home to just 1% of refugees while 86% are hosted in developing countries, including some of the poorest on earth, and that one-third of refugees in the UK hold University degrees – is simply less convenient for politicians pushing an anti-migration agenda.
We are increasingly skilled in crafting complacent fictions intended not so much to demonise refugees as exculpate our own consciences. In Australia, for instance, ever-more restrictive asylum policies – which have seen all those arriving by boat transferred off-shore and, even when granted refugee status, refused the right to settle in Australia – have been presented by supporters as merely intended to prevent the nefarious practice of “queue-jumping”. In this universe, the border patrols become the guardians ensuring “fair” asylum hearings, while asylum-seekers are condemned for cheating the system.
That the system itself now contravenes international law is forgotten. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan asylum-seeking mothers recently placed on suicide watch – threatening to kill themselves in the hope that their orphaned, Australian-born children might then be saved from detention – are judged guilty of “moral blackmail”.
Such stories foster complacency by encouraging an extraordinary degree of confidence in our ability to sort the deserving from the undeserving. The public remain convinced that “real” refugees wait in camps far beyond Europe’s borders, and that they do not take their fate into their own hands but wait to be rescued. But this “truth” too is hypocritical. It conveniently obscures the fact that the West will not resettle one-tenth of the refugees who have been identified by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as in need of resettlement.
In fact, only one refugee in a hundred will ever be resettled from a camp to a third country in the West. In January 2014 the UK Government announced it would offer 500 additional refugee resettlement places for the “most vulnerable” refugees as a humanitarian gesture: but it’s better understood as political rationing.
Research shows us that undue self-congratulation when it comes to “helping” refugees is no new habit. Politicians are fond of remarking that Britain has a “long and proud” tradition of welcoming refugees, and NGOs and charities reiterate the same claim in the hope of grounding asylum in British cultural values.
But while the Huguenots found sanctuary in the seventeenth century, and Russia’s dissidents sought exile in the nineteenth, closer examination exposes the extent to which asylees’ ‘warm welcome’ has long rested upon the convictions of the few prepared to defy the popular prejudices of the many.
Poor migrants fleeing oppression have always been more feared than applauded in the UK. In 1905, the British Brothers’ League agitated for legislation to restrict (primarily Jewish) immigration from Eastern Europe because of populist fears that Britain was becoming ‘the dumping ground for the scum of Europe’. Similarly, the bravery of individual campaigners who fought to secure German Jews’ visas in the 1930s must be measured against the groundswell of public anti-semitism that resisted mass refugee admissions.
British MPs in 1938 were insistent that ‘it is impossible for us to absorb any large number of refugees here’, and as late as August 1938 the Daily Mail warned against large number of German Jews ‘flooding’ the country. In the US, polls showed that 94% of Americans disapproved of Kristallnacht, 77% thought immigration quotas should not be raised to allow additional Jewish migration from Germany.
All this suggests that Western commitment after 1951 to uphold a new Refugee Convention should not be read as a marker of some innate Western generosity of spirit. Even in 1947, Britain was forcibly returning Soviet POWs to Stalin’s Russia. Many committed suicide en route rather than face the Gulags or execution. When in 1972, Idi Amin expelled Ugandan’s Asians – many of whom were British citizens – the UK government tried desperately to persuade other Commonwealth countries to admit the refugees, before begrudgingly agreeing to act as a refuge of “last resort”. If forty years on the 40,000 Ugandan Asians who settled in the UK are often pointed to as a model refugee success story, this is not because but in spite of the welcome they received.
Many refugee advocates and NGOs are nevertheless wary of picking apart the public belief that a “generous welcome” exists for “real” refugees. The public, after all, are much more likely to be flattered than chastised into donating much needed funds to care for those left destitute – sometime by the deliberate workings of the asylum system itself. But it is important to recognise the more complex and less complacent truths that researchers’ work reveals.
For if we scratch the surface of our asylum policies beneath a shiny humanitarian veneer lies the most cynical kind of politics. Myth making sustains false dichotomies between deserving “refugees” there and undeserving “illegal migrants” here – and conveniently lets us forget that both are fleeing the same wars in the same leaking boats.
As a United Nations Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson has been hard at work promoting support for women around the world. Recently, Ms. Watson stood along side UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to launch the UN’s “HeForShe” Campaign, at UN Headquarters in New York. The HeForShe Campaign calls for boys and men world wide to participate in the gender equality movement. The campaign hopes to have one billion boys and men become advocates for stopping women’s global inequality. Ms. Watson, giving a speech at the event, spoke at length about her experiences and what she hope to see happen through the campaign. Rappler reports:
“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are.”
“I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves,” Watson said.
“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”
“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man …. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t want to talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”
Watson said liberating men from stereotypes ultimately benefits women.
“When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive, women won’t be compelled to be submissive. If men don’t need to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be strong,” she said.
“You might think: who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the UN? I’ve been asking myself at the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make this better. And having seen what I’ve seen and given the chance, I feel my responsibility to say something.”
“The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain is that this has to stop.”
“Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men,” she said.
“My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. These influences are the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it but they are the feminists needed in the world today. We need more of those.”
She stressed that both men and women must work together for the girls and women who are less privileged than she. She cited women who earn less than men for doing the same work, child brides, and girls who are unable to finish their education.
The full length article from Rappler and the transcript of Ms. Watson’s entire speech can be read here.
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I got to be party to pure, absolute joy this weekend. I have seen such displays on television after a big win in sports or gameshows. This time, it was my little girl who celebrated. After so many losses in the past six months, it was a much needed win.
As a parent, one of the worst things about cancer is being totally helpless. We are forced to sit and watch as one thing after another is taken away from our little girl. Ballet, plays, school, vacations, little things and big things are plucked away as she lays in bed.
Wonderful organizations are out there to give back to these kids. Groups such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation come beside them to give them something to look forward to during their treatment. A very introspective child, Kylie debated long and hard over her wish, finally deciding she wanted to see Aladdin on Broadway.
A few weeks ago, Kylie was asked to be the honored child at Make-a-Wish Georgia’s annual fund-raising Wish Gala. The chairperson of the event took her on a shopping spree for a gown. This day of shopping was unlike any that my girls have been on – especially Kylie. As a fourth child, hand-me-downs are the rule of thumb. If it isn’t obscenely high or dragging the ground, it fits.
Not this time. She was treated like a princess. After a six month hiatus, I saw her old friend, “excitement” start to creep back into her life.
The big night came. We all got dressed up for the Gala.
She knew she was going to sing with her sister. She knew I was going to speak. She thought of herself as the entertainment and the face of wish-children for the evening. What she didn’t know was that Make-a-Wish had planned a big surprise for her. They had a video from her favorite Broadway performers who granted her wish to go to see Aladdin. Here is her reaction:
Priceless. Pure Joy.
After so many months of seeing her disappointed, I can’t look at that video without tears.
You might be wondering if I embarrassed myself and my family in front of the trendier set. I believe the answer is no. With a stern admonition from the start, I spent the evening minding everything I did and said carefully. I paused three seconds before any word escaped my lips. I didn’t spill or break anything. My online tux-buying escapade was made unnecessary by a friend exactly my size who owns a tuxedo. I did not step on anyone’s dress or trip on my way to the stage. I didn’t try to fit in by discussing the beach chalet I own in Vermont.
It was a lovely evening. Kylie was the star…. And she deserves it.