"This is another situation that highlights just how our legal system is not built for positive rights," explains legal expert and investigator Sarah Tofte, curled up in the papasan chair in her office at Human Rights Watch, drinking coffee. The "situation" she is referring to is the backlog of untested rape kits -- nearly 13,000 of them -- in police storage facilities and crime labs in Los Angeles County, the subject of a report she authored last month.
Maricela Guzman joined the military for the same reason so many young people do -- she needed money for college. Raised in a working class, Mexican immigrant family in South Central Los Angeles, she dropped out of school at 16 so she could work at McDonald's to supplement her family's income. (The family was about to lose its home, burdened by a high-interest-rate mortgage that Guzman had negotiated herself at the age of 14 because she spoke the best English.) But Guzman was determined -- she went back to school, eventually earned her high school diploma, and then went on to East Los Angeles Community College. Her mother threatened to take on a second job to help her with the tuition, so she did what many loving children would do. She signed up for the Navy.
Gloria Steinem of the National Organization for Women attends an Equal Right Amendment rally outside the White House on July 4, 1981. Now, change is created via strategic communication and small grass-roots movements. (AP Photo)
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, housed at the continually surprising and alive Brooklyn Museum, celebrated its second anniversary last weekend with a speak-out called "Unfinished Business." As the title suggests, the aim was to bring a diverse range of feminists together in one auditorium to talk about the future of our so-called movement. The lineup of official speakers was, indeed, admirably diverse -- both ethnically and generationally; it included activist and researcher C. Nicole Mason, labor organizer Ai-jen Poo, GritTV host Laura Flanders, novelist and rabble-rouser Esther Broner, and hip-hop artist Toni Blackman.
Sometimes you fight so long and hard for something that it's hard to believe you've actually won. There was a bit of that sentiment among the feminist community following President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he would create a White House Council on Women and Girls, headed up by Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and friend of the Obamas, and run by Tina Tchen, who is currently director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.
It used to be that tourists headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras had fantasies of glittering beads, yards of sickeningly sweet frozen drinks, and public nudity. But many of those who headed down South last week were actually on a whole different flight of fancy.
Like Juan Ponce DeLeon's mythological fountain of youth, the Lower 9th Ward has become upper-middle-class America's source of feel-good absolution. Do-gooders flood down to New Orleans, their bags packed full of old T-shirts and their minds packed full of altruistic dreams. They want to build houses, watch them spring up from the dirt as they do on Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Indeed, they genuinely want to help people.