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Veronika Scott was a fashion student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit when her teacher, Stephen Schock, challenged her class to create a product that filled a need, rather than satisfying or creating a fad. Veronika’s design was a coat for homeless people that could transform into a sleeping bag, since in her city, she says, “you are constantly faced with the homeless epidemic.” 

Not only did her design win a International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America, it’s become the core of Veronika’s nonprofit organization, The Empowerment Plan, which hires people from homeless shelters and transition homes to help her make the coats. Now, three years later, the 24-year-old social entrepreneur expects that her team of 15 seamstresses will produce over 6,000 coats in 2014 — all of which will be distributed free of charge to people living on the streets. 

Veronika originally designed the coats seeking input from people at a homeless shelter. After receiving feedback from people who used the prototype over a Detroit winter, she refined the design to create her final version which, in addition to being a waterproof and windproof coat and sleeping bag, also transforms into an over-the-shoulder bag with storage in the arm sockets. 

When she started out, Veronika states,

“Everybody told me that my business was going to fail — not because of who I was giving my product to but because of who I was hiring. They said that these homeless women will never make more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — you cannot rely on them for anything. And I know my ladies enjoy proving everybody wrong.” 

And, their impact is growing — according to CNN, which recently honored Veronika as one of their 10 Visionary Women of 2014, “The Empowerment Plan expects to launch a ‘buy one, give one’ program that will make it sustainable beyond the donations and sponsorships that keep it running now. Hunters and backpackers who’ve asked to buy the coat will be able to do so, and the Empowerment Plan will still create coats for homeless people who need them.”

Veronika is also excited to show other clothing producers that local manufacturing is possible: “I think we’re going to show a lot of people: you think it’s outdated to do manufacturing in your neighborhood, but I think it’s something that we have to do in the future, where it’s sustainable, where you invest in people, where they’re not interchangeable parts.”

You can read more about Veronika’s organization on CNN, or watch a short video about her work here.

To learn more about The Empowerment Plan or how you can support their work, visit http://www.empowermentplan.org/

For a wonderful book about women’s great inventions throughout history, check out “Girls Think of Everything” for readers 8 to 13.

For those in the US who would like to support efforts to end homelessness and help the over 600,000 people who experience homelessness on any given night, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness athttp://www.naeh.org/ or to find a local homeless shelter to support in your area, visit http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Important in so many ways.

This is amazing and wonderful.

What The Today Show Totally Missed With Its Coverage of Michael Moore’s Wealth

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Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, the director of films like Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, and his wife Kathleen Glynn are separating after 22 years. The proceedings have revealed to the public the extent of Michael Moore’s finances, including a large mansion in Michigan.

This morning, The Today Show seized on this news to portray Moore as a hypocrite: how could someone with a “blue collar” image, they ask, have this much money?

Let’s be absolutely clear: that question is ridiculous.

First of all, someone with a blue collar upbringing can most certainly attain great wealth over the course of their life and still maintain the composure, sensibility, and ideals they were raised with. That’s common sense. It’s called economic mobility, and it is something that Americans have felt great pride in throughout our history.

But let’s make something else abundantly clear: Michael Moore and other critics of our economic system do not oppose wealth.

Seriously. This has been a libel against all economic progressives, displayed prominently during the 2012 election when Mitt Romney and others accused President Obama of opposing the very idea of wealth and success (thus the obsession with taking “you didn’t build that” out of context). It’s the insult hurled at anyone who criticizes big money in politics: we are told that we are “jealous” of the Koch Brothers’ massive wealth, because why else would we say mean things about them?

And The Today Show bought completely into this frame, calling Moore’s politics “contradictory” with his big house and his full bank account.

But it’s not contradictory, because Michael Moore doesn’t oppose wealth. Senator Elizabeth Warren, another target of these claims, doesn’t oppose wealth. The millions of Working America members who take action to address income inequality don’t oppose wealth, pursuing wealth, or accruing wealth.

What we oppose, and will continue to fight against, is the following:

The use of massive wealth to rig our democracy in your favor. We respect the right of Charles and David Koch to grow their business, to hire workers and put out a product. But in addition to running a business, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists, think tanks, and a constellation of political organizations to insure their company’s success at the expense of others.

For instance, there’s nothing “free market” about the Kochs’ efforts to tax consumers of solar energy in an effort to keep them addicted to the petroleum they produce. If Apple lobbied for a law that would add extra taxes for Android users, there would be an enormous outcry. This isn’t different.

The use of massive wealth to destroy the ladder of economic mobility that helped create that wealth in the first place. Anyone who runs a business has the right to manage their workforce as they see fit, within the bounds of the law. But businessmen like the Koch Brothers, Art Pope, Rex Sinquefield, and Dick DeVos don’t stop there. Through campaign donations, TV advertisements, lobbyists, and other tactics, they have tried (and often succeeded) in changing laws that protect workers’ rights, wages, and retirement. The DeVos family’s near single-handed funding of the “right to work” effort in Michigan is exhibit A.

Knocking rungs off of the ladder of economic mobility doesn’t create wealth, it destroys it.

The use of massive wealth to deceive consumers. Elizabeth Warren didn’t set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because of a hate of Wall Street and the people who work there. Yet, Wall Street banks spent a fortune lobbying against the creation of the CFPB, and they continue to make weakening the agency and broader Wall Street reform a key priority.

Warren understood that when information was presented clearly to consumers–without tricks, traps, and hidden fees–they would be better able to select the products that worked for them. That understanding would allow Wall Street companies to compete on a level playing field, with the best plans and products winning. If that’s not capitalism, what is?

So can Michael Moore criticize inequality while enjoying economic success? Absolutely. Moore just happens to be one of those wealthy people who doesn’t feel the need to use his wealth to destroy others’ ability to become wealthy as well.

That’s not being contradictory, that’s being decent.

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