Upcoming Documentary Explores Transportation Equity

How is transportation a civil rights issue?

Free to Ride,” an upcoming documentary by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, explores the connection between the two.

Access to safe, affordable, and reliable transportation widens opportunity and is essential to addressing poverty, unemployment, and equal opportunity goals like access to good schools and health care services – but transportation funding programs don’t benefit all areas and communities equally.

In a newly released clip from the documentary, Lexer Quamie, senior counsel at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, underscores the need for transportation equity, stating, “The preservation of civil rights with respect to transportation is crucial…Transportation provides individuals and communities access to fair housing and adequate housing, employment, [and] educational opportunities.”

“Free to Ride” will be released next spring, but you can watch the new clip here:

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How College Students Are Fighting for Campus Inclusion

This post was written by Jennifer Tran, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund intern and a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is involved with diversity and inclusion issues on campus.

It is said that political consciousness often emerges on college campuses. A time of self-discovery and exploration, college is a place where many students first develop their organizing and political skills, especially around ensuring that all students have equal access to colleges and universities.

In recent years, this has taken the form of various student-led efforts like #BBUM (Being Black at the University of Michigan), “I, too, am Harvard”, The Black Bruins at UCLA, #BeyondTheStereotype at USC and UCLA, as well as the Undocumented Longhorns on my campus, the University of Texas at Austin.

In recent weeks, another effort has made the news rounds. Students at Colgate University in upstate New York organized a five-day sit-in to petition university administrators for policies to address long-building campus climate issues in regards to race, gender, sexual orientation, and other marginalized identities.

Last week, I spoke with Olivia Rauh, a senior political science and philosophy and religion double major at Colgate, and one of the students involved in the sit-in. Olivia helped coordinate media and communications during the sit-in, especially with advocacy organizations like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Like many campus protests, “this was about an overall atmosphere of marginalization, not just of race, but of gender and gender identity and other forms of marginalization,” Olivia said. “The administration was sweeping issues under the rug and not changing…it was pretty clear that we had to do something to make them listen.”

With savvy planning and persistence, their efforts garnered the attention of Colgate administrators and national media. After long and heated negotiations with student leaders, Olivia told me, the administrators finally agreed on a detailed plan to address diversity and inclusivity on campus, including hiring two student workers to keep the administration accountable.

But the students at Colgate are not done. Their organization, the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC), is committed to keeping a vigilant eye on the administration.

Student-organized protests on campuses like Colgate are some of the most visible examples of a youth-driven movement spanning the country today.

I have personally seen the power of student-led efforts on my campus. UT Austin’s enrollment of 52,000 includes students from all types of backgrounds, making it a hotbed for diversity and inclusion issues. In the last few years, we have had issues ranging from bleach-bombs targeting students of color to challenges to the school’s holistic admissions policy in the Fisher v. University of Texas U.S. Supreme Court case, in which the school prevailed.

But UT Austin’s history is also filled with many successes, thanks in large part to student efforts. Our Center for Asian American Studies is the result of students who protested and were arrested in the university president’s office. Our Multicultural Engagement Center, one of the main hubs of student organizing, and of which I am a proud product, is the result of marginalized students who came together to create a space (at the time, an abandoned closet) for themselves.

Each of these efforts were driven by passionate and dedicated students who knew, like their contemporary peers at Colgate, that one of the key ways to get their administration’s attention was to demonstrate and make their concerns known. Campus organizing has been one of the predominant ways through which university policy on diversity and inclusion issues has changed.

When my peers and I organized around Fisher on campus, national outreach was outside the scope of our consideration. It was not until we were approached by various advocacy organizations (and in the case of Fisher, The Leadership Conference Education Fund) that we began to understand how we could expand our campaign with media, demonstrations, and other events.

This knowledge and skill set is certainly not intuitive to most students, but can catapult movements into the national spotlight, much like it did for Colgate.

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New Report Highlights Dangerous Trajectory of Transportation Funding

By Angela Pavao, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Last month, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a report on the state of transportation funding, drawing much needed attention to an increasingly relevant issue. The report, “Intergovernmental Challenges in Surface Transportation Funding,” examines the current funding system for highways and public transit, notes a growing gap between available funding and existing needs, and looks at the potential of government policy going forward. Decreased funding poses a threat not only to balanced budgets but also to equity and civil rights. With large segments of the U.S. population already lacking access to transportation, progress towards transportation equity could easily be stalled or even reversed.

The report outlines the multi-layered transportation funding structure and looks at the contributions and roles of each level of government. Approximately 36 percent of funding stems from the local level, 40 percent from states, and 25 percent from the federal government. The current problem, and the driving factor for this report, is the decreasing funding available for transportation management and development on every level. All three levels of government have been forced to steadily cut back their transportation budgets over the past decade, largely due to declining revenue.

On the whole, transportation funding fell by $27 billion, which is approximately 12 percent, between 2002 and 2011. Funding has since plummeted further, as the Department of Transportation has run out of supplementary funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The situation is already dire: according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, “just maintaining the current performance of the highway and transit system would require at least $13 billion more per year.” Already, local and state governments are anticipating less reliable funding and foregoing important long-term projects.

Transportation inequity is a major civil rights issue that is often overlooked by those not directly affected. According to The Leadership Conference Education Fund, “transportation investment to date has often excluded or inadequately addressed the needs of low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, and many people in rural areas.” As other reports by The Education Fund have highlighted, those without access to transportation are often held back from employment, struggle to obtain routine or emergency medical care, and are severely limited in affordable housing options. To resolve an issue of this magnitude would require a focused increase in transportation investment.

Where, then, does a budgetary crisis leave these hundreds of thousands of individuals already lacking sufficient access to transportation? With resource cuts stunting the development of new initiatives and even current infrastructure threatened, it seems we may be heading in reverse – towards even greater inequity. One of the four key principles highlighted by the Pew report is that “falling revenue forces hard choices.” It is critical that these hard choices do not further isolate these underrepresented groups or deprive more individuals of access. Ideally, revenue sources will be adjusted and funding will return to previous levels. Regardless of specific numbers, however, the government must begin to prioritize equity in all transportation strategies they pursue.

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Conference Brings Transportation Equity to Forefront

By Bree Romero, Field Manager

Nestled at the intersection of three rivers connecting the Midwest to the Atlantic coast is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – host of the 18th annual Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place Conference earlier this month. It was a perfect meeting space for over 1,000 city planners, transportation engineers, public health advocates, elected officials, community leaders, and professional walking and bicycling advocates to gather and build on an active transportation network.

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As Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and presenter during the opening plenary noted, “ever since it was first organized as Pro Bike in 1980, this event has served a critical role in the active transportation movement – a place for advocates and practitioners to come together to reflect on needs and lessons learned, to develop a vision for the future, and of course, to build relationships and create new friendships.”

The conference’s four tracks – change, connect, prosper, and sustain – represented the importance of advocacy, infrastructure change, evaluation, and partnership building. And to ensure a lasting impact, interactive activities and workshops were added, including local demonstration projects, trainings leading up to the event, mobile sessions (such as “Connecting Pittsburgh’s Neighborhoods to the Riverfront: A Boat Tour”), and a free community open house available for anyone to attend.

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I was excited to participate in the conference and join the Safe Routes to School National Partnership session, “Policies for Pupils: Working with School Boards on Walking and Bicycling Policies.” The session not only highlighted how to engage schools in walking and bicycling projects that focus on infrastructure improvements, student traffic education, and driver enforcement that improves safety for children (many of whom already walk or bicycle in unsafe conditions), but it also provided an overview of transportation equity. I joined several sessions on behalf of The Leadership Conference Education Fund and PolicyLink, co-chairs of the Transportation Equity Caucus (a coalition of partner organizations that further transportation policies that advance economic and social equity in America), where I explained what transportation equity is and why it’s a critical component of bike share programs.

Transportation equity means a transportation system that works for everyone and provides people with multiple transportation options, including the promotion of equal employment opportunities, a requirement of equal decision-making power, the promotion of healthy and sustainable communities, and a requirement for meaningful civil rights protections.

Learn more about transportation equity here.

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“South Park” Lampoons Washington Football Team Owner over Offensive Name

By Kaidia Pickels, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The infamous cartoon series “South Park” caused quite a stir last Sunday when it released a trailer that satirizes Washington football team owner Dan Snyder’s continued use of the team’s offensive name. The clip, which aired during the fourth quarter of the matchup between Washington and Philadelphia on Sunday, has quickly gone viral.

The trailer was used to promote the 18th season premiere of Comedy Central’s cartoon series, which aired last night. In the clip, Cartman, one of the show’s primary characters, begins to use the team’s name and logo to promote his own company, which he claims is perfectly legal given that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six of the team’s trademark registrations last June. A cartoon Snyder challenges Cartman and calls the move “offensive” and “derogatory.”

“When I named my company…it was out of deep appreciation for your team and your people,” Cartman responds, mocking Snyder’s refusal to change the name of the team.

While the clip seems to only have been aired on television in the Washington, DC area, it quickly drew national attention after “South Park” posted the trailer on its YouTube channel, where it currently has almost 2 million views.

The NFL and Snyder have faced increased scrutiny since 50 U.S. senators called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change the team’s name. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights voted last December to pass a resolution urging Snyder to change the offensive name. “Changing the name is the right thing do, regardless of how comfortable fans have become with it. And when Mr. Snyder does decide to put the slur away, I think he’ll discover a new market of consumers who recognize the dignity of all people and want to honor that with the sports teams they support,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference.

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What the New Census Income and Poverty Data Say about Gender Equality

By Angela Pavao, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 16, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual report examining income and poverty data from 2013 and how the two indicators have changed, overall and across demographics, over recent years. Despite some positive changes, like the overall decline in poverty rates, the report highlighted a continued and severe gender disparity, examined more thoroughly last week by AAUW and the National Women’s Law Center.

By the Numbers: A Look at the Gender Pay Gap by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Achieving income equity among genders has never been so critical, yet 2013 saw a disappointing lack of movement in the gender pay gap. In 2013, 40 percent of American households considered a female their primary source of income, yet new census data reveal that working women receive, on average, just 78 cents compared to every dollar a male earns. When the data compare Black and Latina women with their White male counterparts, the wage gap widens significantly – to 64 cents and 54 cents, respectively. These figures demonstrate the pervasiveness of both gender and racial inequality in our economy and highlight the interconnectedness of several civil rights issues. It is important to note that the 0.78 ratio does not take into account factors like industry, education, and experience. That said, a 2012 study by AAUW found “an unexplainable 7 percent pay gap,” even when other factors were accounted for. This suggests two problems: gender discrimination and a system that does not encourage women to aspire to the same educational attainment and higher-paying industries as men.

These figures were released in the wake of every Senate Republican – and one Independent – voting on September 15 to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have strengthened the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and prohibited employer retaliation against employees who discuss or disclose their salaries. Two weeks earlier on Labor Day, the Republican National Committee tweeted an image declaring that “All Republicans support equal pay.”

NWLC Analysis of 2013 Census Poverty Data by the National Women’s Law Center

The data also show that women continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty. In 2013, the percentage of women below the poverty line remained at a two-decade peak of 14.5 percent, compared to only 11 percent of men. More startling: that 11 percent figure is still lower than the record low poverty rate for women, which was 11.5 percent in 2000. The data also reveal higher poverty rates among women who were heads of their family, Black women, Hispanic women, and senior women living alone. Despite the fact that only 40 percent of households are headed by women, these households account for 58.8 percent of all children living in poverty.

When considered alongside AAUW’s income breakdown, the cyclical nature of the problem becomes clearer: lower wages inherently produce higher rates of poverty, which in turn make it much more difficult for women to reach their full, economic potential. It is this systemic inequality that we must counter through comprehensive legislation designed to protect workers and promote equal pay for equal work. Every individual, regardless of gender, deserves a society that rewards their hard work fairly.

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Briefing Highlights Need to Address Discriminatory Profiling in America

By Jordyn Bussey, a 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The troubling reality of discriminatory profiling in the U.S. is gaining more attention following several tragic events, including the fatal shooting on August 9 of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old African American by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

First introduced in 2001, the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) was most recently introduced last year by Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich. ERPA would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin by law enforcement agencies, as well as provide resources for training and gathering data on such activity. It is currently stalled in both chambers of Congress.

On September 15, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP, and South Asian Americans Leading Together teamed up with Cardin to host a briefing on profiling on Capitol Hill. Hilary Shelton, director to the NAACP’s Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, moderated the briefing. Speakers included Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, and Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference. Panelists included Benjamin Crump of Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, who represents Brown’s family, Chief John I. Dixon III of the Petersburg, Va. police department, Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, and Anthony Rothert, legal director at the ACLU of Missouri.

The panel explored ways to end profiling practices, including passing ERPA and calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to revise critical Department of Justice profiling guidance that hasn’t been updated since it was released in 2003.

“We have to stop following tragedy with embarrassment,” said Dr. Goff, referring to the lack of action and future planning by the government after profiling tragedies such as Brown’s shooting. He said the public looks to the government for a plan, wanting to see action being taken, and instead is met with confusion and inaction. In fact, the U.S. government doesn’t collect data that would help it gain an understanding of profiling; the first data compiled of police stops and use of excessive force was done this past year by Goff’s Center for Policing Equity.

Crump, who also represents the family of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teenager shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., by a man who was later acquitted in the killing, said, “It is bad when these killers profile our children. It is worse when this system profiles our children.”

In closing, Zirkin reinforced the necessity of moving ERPA forward and updating the guidance, which she said should “eliminate the current national security and border integrity loopholes and ban profiling based on religion and national origin. When both of these things happen we will be just one step closer to addressing larger issues of discrimination plaguing communities of color.”

Watch the entire briefing below:

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