As is often the case a simple answer makes us go, Wow, why didn’t we think of this before. In this case it has to so with Strut Safe a telephone service for young women walking alone at night. It was started by Alice Jackson and her friend Rachel Chung after they had attended a vigil for a young woman killed while walking home. It is based in Edinburgh, but given that the dangers of young women walking alone at night applies to so many towns and cities in so many countries, the idea deserves airing. Perhaps it will be copied and help others too. Sometimes the callers are out of breath because they have run or are scared, or even think they have heard someone following them. The trained volunteers reassure them, reminding them that they are right there with them and will be until they are safe at their destination. The callers are asked personal information, the kind that might be needed if there was to be a problem, so that police or ambulance could find them, not only name, address and birth date but also what they are wearing so that they can be easily identified. And the calls last until callers reach home or wherever. Right now the service which is funded through donations operates weekends only and is usually used by people walking home from a club, after having left a boyfriend, or going home from work. While the service has been publicized, most find the number through social media.
Although many young people may have cars, many don’t. Even in big cities where public transportation and services like Uber exist, services if they are in operation at night can be very slow, pointing to the need for this idea even if it is adapted to local conditions and local needs.
Because I’m an immigrant I know how hard it is to build a new life in another country. And because I was a legal immigrant, I’ve become sensitive to what it means to be undocumented, because from what I’ve learned over the years, their hardships dwarf what mine were. When I read in the Guardian Newspaper a story about illegal immigrants who turned to activism to help others who were undocumented, I had to pay attention. Their names are not famous, but their work speaks to the resilience and courage of the human spirit. There are people like Viri Hernandez and her mother Rita, Reyna Montoya and German Cadenas. Cadenas, for example, came to Maricopa County in Arizona at 15 to visit his father at Christmas and escape the destabilization of Venezuela. When his visa ran out he opted to stay with his father and earn money to send back to his family. He was undocumented for 9 years. Now a citizen he is also a professor of psychology at Lehigh University and has published quite a lot of research on what it means to be an undocumented immigrant. Actually several psychologists have documented the mental health issues of people who are undocumented, the anxiety, depression, PTSD and feeling of low-self-worth they experience. These issues stem from being discriminated against, hunted, detained and marginalized by the view people have of these immigrants. What Cadenas research found, was that something he called critical consciousness, helps people cope with the traumas they have to live with. In plain English he means that when they turn to social activism, their pursuit of social justice and their work to help others is what helps them cope with the hardships, and deal with the traumas.
Millions are living with these mental health issues and because of climate change and political upheavals the numbers are estimated to grow. I hope that the work of people like Cadenas will help increase understanding of the issues migrants face, and that that understanding will make us all a bit more better humans.
I’m joining an increasing number of people in the world who want the right to die. I want the right to decide when my life can end. In my case I don’t mean suicide, and I don’t mean avoiding the pains of living, I mean dying on my own terms with dignity to preserve the purpose of my life and to avoid being a burden to those around me. In 1997 Switzerland was the only country were assisted dying was legal. Now 11 countries and 10 US states allow it. It has several names and no matter what name it is given, it is still very controversial. In the UK for example, where only 35% of Parliament favors such a law, and of course in socially conservatives US states, such laws will not be enacted in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless much progress in this area has been made, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, Columbia, Germany, Austria, Portugal, five Australian States have legalized it. What is very interesting to me is that countries which are largely Catholic like Ireland, Chile, Italy and Uruguay are in the middle of legislation that will legalize it. The impetus behind this movement is credited to the many people who have witnessed loved ones suffer because of chronic or incurable illnesses, and too the fear that this could happen to them. The state of Oregon became an example in 2015 when it passed the Death with Dignity Act, which has been copied by several countries and several states. Classical liberalism invokes the right to self-ownership and the sovereignty of the individual, that is not what motivates me, nor do I think what motivates most. Personally I do not want to live without a sense of purpose, if I can no longer do my work, then my life as I understand it is finished. Others want to be able to have a certain quality of life, be conscious, be able to greet others, still others want to be able to make their own decisions. Motives may vary, but the issue is the same, we want the right to have a say when and how we die. And that movement, I’m happy to say is gaining.
New York City has done something which some will consider wrong but which according to my understanding of what’s good is a step in the right direction. It has given some 800,000 non citizens the right to vote in local elections. It only applies to green card holders and those holding work permits and the first election where it would apply is in January 2023. It goes without saying it is a debated law and some including experts say they do not know if New York City’s city council has the right to pass a law affecting voting rights. Still, it remains that in a democracy people are to have a voice in their fate, and voting is how we do it. Non-citizens live in the community, and pay taxes, they are involved and it seems only fair they ought to have a voice in the affairs of their city. There’s also the issue of inclusiveness. To my understanding humanity has to learn to be increasingly inclusive as a means to reach unity millennia from now. And this would be a small step. New York city is the largest city to pass such a law, towns in Vermont and Maryland already allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections and non-citizens can vote in school board elections in San Francisco. It’s worth noting that several other towns in Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts are planning to allow non-citizens to vote. Needless to say it is controversial and some states like Colorado and Arizona have already passed laws preventing non-citizens from voting. It will continue to be controversial and as it does it is bound to foster discussion—perhaps a discussion that will deepen our understanding of what inclusivity means. That I believe would be very helpful to better understand how democracy works.