Government Alone Won’t Save the Redwoods — It’s Taking a Village to Raise This Forest

The redwood trees on the Northern California coast are the tallest trees in the world and some of the oldest to still be standing — aged anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand years old. But not that long ago, the redwoods were nearly decimated. Before 1850, there were 2.2 million acres of redwood old-growth forests. Today, only 5% of the original old-growth remains, due mainly to heavy logging in the area. And redwoods are essential in combating climate change in America — an acre of redwood trees absorbs enough carbon dioxide as the equivalent of driving a car 8 million miles. 
Enter Save The Redwoods League, a nonprofit that has been working since 1915 to protect and restore redwood forests and connect people with the trees’ peace and beauty. By teaming with the National Park Service and California State Parks, Redwoods Rising was born to help restore the scars left by years of logging and accelerate the pace of redwood forest recovery within the parks. The end goal: to protect the area’s remaining old-growth groves and usher in a healthy, new generation of redwoods.
Still, as more threats persist, like wildfires raging longer and wider throughout California, there has never been a more pressing time to act. With Redwoods Rising, the future of the redwoods seems bright, and the trees’ lasting impact on visitors will continue to inspire future generations to preserve the redwoods.
More: Adobe Houses Are Made of Mud and Straw — and Some Now Cost $1 Million Because of Rising Taxes

One Mayor Transformed His Town Into the ‘City of Kindness’ — and Inspired Over 1 Million Kind Acts

If you’re ever in need of a smile, you might want to head to Anaheim, California. While the 50-square mile city is home to Disneyland and the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, it’s also known by the motto: The City of Kindness.
The idea all started with crayons and some paper. Natasha Jaievsky, who tragically died in a car accident in 2002 at age 6, loved drawing colorful pictures of rainbows. Along each rainbow’s curve, she also wrote messages of kindness. 
Her father, Edward Jaievsky, found her drawings while searching for ways to preserve her memory. So he hung up her kindness-filled art around the city.
It wasn’t long before the local community noticed the message’s power. City Councilman Tom Tait saw Natasha’s pictures and was inspired to run for mayor, using kindness as a platform that could potentially transform the city. He won.
In 2011, one of his first in-office campaigns was the Hi Neighbor initiative, a community-based program that encourages residents to get to know the people living on their street. “People are just happier when they live in a neighborhood and they care for their neighbors, and they know their neighbors care for them,” Tait said.
While Tait knows that there are important municipal and civic reasons to be kind — in fact, New York University sociologists found that tight-knit neighborhoods often fare better in response to emergency and disaster preparedness — he’s also grateful for other kindness campaigns that were sparked by Hi Neighbor.
Among the most successful: The Year of Kindness campaign, launched in 2013 after Tait met with the superintendent of the city’s elementary school district. “We decided to ask the kids to create a million acts of kindness. A million! They did it, and it was fantastic,” Tait said in an interview with City of Kindness.
Small gestures, like giving a sad friend a hug or holding a door open counted, as well as larger acts, like planting hundreds of trees or visiting senior living centers. After tallying these, each school had contributed 40,000 to 50,000 gestures each. “I think it changed the DNA of the schools,” Tait said. Two years later, a million acts were completed. To celebrate their success, the Dalai Lama traveled from India to visit for his 80th birthday. 
The city and school district noted that suspensions were cut in half, incidents of bullying were down and crime rates also lowered. “It’s not just a feel-good thing,” Tait told The Orange County Register. “There are serious civic reasons behind this.”
As California faced its worst wildfires this past year, Anaheim sees kindness as the first step to resiliency. Kindness is used to build a stronger community, and in turn, a community that’s better equipped to handle challenges, like earthquakes, fires and crime.  
And although Tait is no longer Anaheim’s mayor, his legacy continues. His vision sparked the City of Kindness, a coalition of organizations working together to spread kindness while giving individuals and communities the resources they need to spread kindness and affect change.
The sentiments in Anaheim have spread across the country. At the 2016 United States Conference of Mayors, leaders used Anaheim as a model and urged the country to complete a billion acts of kindness. 
Tait’s example has also proved useful to others looking to strengthen their communities.
“Working alongside Mayor Tait has shown me that people in powerful positions, CEOs of companies and mayors of cities of any size, people with high-level responsibilities and stresses, can be very down to earth, grounded, thoughtful, and kind individuals,” Loretta Day, Council Services Coordinator with the City of Anaheim told City of Kindness
While public servants like Tait believe in the ripple effect of kindness, broadening one’s personal perspective can also have a far-reaching impact.
“Kindness is contagious,” Tait told Spectrum News 1.“If you change culture where everyone is a little kinder, literally everything gets better.” 
More: These Parents Fought for a Better Education for Their Kids — and Won

These Parking Lots Give Homeless People a Safe Place to Sleep for the Night

More than 553,742 people are currently homeless in America. But a large percentage of the country’s homeless population isn’t sleeping in shelters: They’re sleeping in cars.
People who live outside or in unfit sleeping environments, such as cars, streets or abandoned buildings, are referred to as the unsheltered homeless, and they represent a large population of homeless in the U.S. Although these populations are challenging to count, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates about 200,000 people are unsheltered in this country.
Shelters might seem like a better option, but cars can provide a sense of control and privacy, and shelter beds can be in short supply. In Los Angeles, a quarter of the homeless population is living out of cars, vans, campers and recreational vehicles, according to the 2018 L.A. County Homeless Count.
Many residential streets have laws that prevent people from sleeping inside their cars, and those that do so risk theft and vandalization. So the main challenge becomes finding a place to rest for more than just an hour or two.
To combat this, a few California nonprofits have partnered with cities and counties to fund safe parking programs, which are parking lots that grant people and families living out of cars a safe and legal place for an uninterrupted night’s rest. The process is simple: Individuals apply online and submit their vehicle’s registration, their insurance and driver’s license. After doing an interview and getting approved, applicants gain access to a lot. Each evening, the lots open and the individuals sign in, sleep and leave the next morning.
But the goal isn’t just to provide a place to sleep: It’s to provide stability and connect the homeless with resources that will help them get into permanent housing.
One of the first safe parking programs launched in Santa Barbara, California, in 2004. Since then, other cities, like Los Angeles and San Diego have developed similar projects.
In Los Angeles, where more than 15,700 people live out of their vehicles, advocates fought a 10-year battle for safe parking, says Emily Uyeda Kantrim, program director of Safe Parking L.A. And they’re finally winning: Safe Parking L.A. launched in 2016 and opened its first lot in March 2018. The organization now has six parking lots, with four more opening by June.
“We bring people on to the lot at night where they have access to a restroom and a guard, and they exit in the morning. It is literally that stripped down,” says Uyeda Kantrim. “Except that we connect them to other services if they’re not already connected.” These services include an element of case management, similar to what an individual would receive at a shelter.
Every 30 days, Safe Parking L.A. receives about 250 requests for spots. About a hundred of those requests are from people who have never accessed homeless services before. Many are employed and have a stable job, but financial barriers, such as child support payments, student loans and exorbitant rent, leave them living in a car.
These people are not going to be prioritized in the homeless service system because they’re able to advocate for themselves, and they don’t have severe healthcare needs,” Uyeda Kantrim says. “This is a poverty issue.”
Uyeda Kantrim says the average length of stay varies: Families which have the highest priority in homeless services might be at a lot for just a few weeks, while a person under 30 with a job might stay an average of six weeks. The average length of stay is about six months.
Each program has different logistics. Some lots offer restrooms with running water for face-washing and teeth-brushing, while others only provide access to a portable toilet. Most operate during the nighttime hours, while some programs operate 24/7. Most locations have an element of security on site, such as a guard or case manager.
And each cost model is different. At Safe Parking L.A., each lot costs about $12,000 a month, with a majority of that paying for state-mandated security. It was originally funded by private donors but is now funded through a variety of sources, including the city and county.
One key to scaling the L.A. program is keeping the lots small: Currently, each one has five to 25 spaces.
“Having a real neighborhood focus and keeping them really small in concept is the thing that will actually allow it to scale,” she says. Uyeda Kantrim says it’s because they’re more palatable to local residents. A lot with 10 cars doesn’t have as large of an impact compared to a lot with a 100-person capacity. The programs also prioritize people within the area, so it’s directly supporting each community.
In Seattle, where 3,372 people were living out of their cars as of 2018, Karina O’Malley and her church saw a similar need for safe parking after the city passed a Scofflaw Ordinance in 2011, legislation that requires cars to be towed and impounded after receiving four or more parking tickets that have yet to be paid.
For O’Malley and her congregation at the Lake Washington United Methodist Church, the solution was obvious: Open their parking lot. After a little research, finding volunteers and acquiring a porta potty, they launched their own safe parking program. Initially, it was just an asphalt parking lot that served one purpose a place to sleep but O’Malley saw the opportunity to engage more with the local homeless community. So the program opened its lot 24/7, and women and families started attending church sessions and events.
“Everybody heard about homelessness, and everybody gave to [the homeless], but they hadn’t actually met somebody who was,” O’Malley says of her congregation. “Just sitting around a table after church and drinking coffee together, seeing so many similarities and commonalities and building friendships, it really pulled down those stereotypes and made the issue much more immediate.”
The church now provides a bathroom with running water, kitchen, wifi, community support and access to resources. Guests are welcome to park in the lot all day, every day, and they can participate in any of the church gatherings.
“Often women tell me that the first night they’re in the church parking lot is the first night of sleep they’ve had since they’ve become homeless,” O’Malley says.
O’Malley and other safe parking advocates are fighting for a good night’s sleep throughout the country. Uyeda Kantrim is coordinating a Southern California Safe Parking Workshop on May 15 that’s free and open to the public.
Representatives from Santa Barbara, San Diego and L.A. will come together to share best practices, problem-solve, and explain how programs cater to specific cities. The team is also building a toolkit so organizations that can’t attend can gain insight on how to launch a program.
“We’re trying to share literally everything we have,” says Uyeda Kantrim. “We want everyone to do this.”
More: Denver Pays Homeless Residents to Help Clean Up the City

Searching for Lives Lost in the Desert

In the third installment of NationSwell’s “Aid at the Border” multimedia series, which explores humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border, we return to California’s Imperial Valley desert to examine the future of Water Station, the nonprofit founded by John Hunter in 2000. For nearly two decades, Hunter has led a team of volunteers as they strategically set out life-saving water for migrants traversing the desert terrain around the border. Now, with Hunter and his wife, Laura, stepping down from the board of directors, Water Station has hired a new president, who has vowed to continue the couple’s goal of providing water in the desert to those who need it most.
With Water Station’s future secured, Hunter is now turning his attention to Armadillos Búsqueda y Rescate, a group of volunteers who perform search and rescue operations for immigrants lost in the desert.
“We get reports from families through Facebook,” says Armadillos founder César Ortigoza. “Once we get the phone number from these people, we will call them and they will let us know where their family members were coming through.” Ortigoza and his team then organize their search efforts around the area where these missing migrants are thought to have disappeared.  

The Armadillos’ mission is a personal one for Ortigoza. At the age of 15, he crossed the border himself as an undocumented immigrant in pursuit of a better life. Even though the journey was not nearly as perilous then as it is today, Ortigoza says his experience motivates him to continue the group’s exhaustive search efforts.
“I wish I never had the misfortune to go through what they have to go through,” says Ortigoza. “So I put myself in their shoes, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Watch Episode 3 of “Aid at the Border” above to see how Hunter and Ortigoza are focusing their efforts on locating the people who have seemingly disappeared without a trace.

This video is the third in a four-part multimedia series, “Aid at the Border,” that explores the impact of humanitarian efforts along the US-Mexico border.

When the American Dream Becomes Human Rights Abuse

Christina Fialho was in law school with hopes of becoming an immigration attorney, when a friend’s father disappeared into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) system. Later, they found out he’d been deported to Mexico. “To this day, she and her father are separated,” Fialho says.
After the incident, Fialho, whose great-grandfather, grandparents and dad all emigrated from the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, made it her mission to learn more about what’s often an opaque and isolating process for undocumented immigrants and their loved ones. Once detained, “They can hire pro bono attorneys or pay for a private attorney, but 84 percent of people in immigration detention are not represented, because there is no right to a court-appointed attorney,” she says. Many can’t even afford to place costly calls to family members on the outside.
So Fialho, along with social justice advocate Christina Mansfield, cofounded Detention Dialogues in 2010, the first visitation program for immigrant detainees in California.
Bolstered by success of their joint effort, the two Christinas expanded their reach by building and coordinating a national network of visitation programs. In 2012, they launched Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement — or CIVIC for short — a national nonprofit that works to abolish detention centers by monitoring human rights abuses and offering alternates to the current system. The watchdog organization also advocates for legislative changes, such as limiting ICE’s expansion of detention centers, and it operates a free, confidential hotline for detainees to connect with family and to report any abuses. On average, CIVIC volunteers process around 14,000 calls a month from all 210 of the country’s immigration detention centers.
“The mere act of a visitation is great, but turning that into a tool for advocacy was really where we saw the potential for systemic change,” says Erica Lock, director of fellowship programs at Echoing Green, a nonprofit that helped Fialho and Mansfield launch CIVIC.

CIVIC co-sponsored the Dignity Not Detention Act, which helps fight the growth of for-profit immigrant detention centers.


The myriad issues facing immigrants in detention — including substandard medical care, prolonged imprisonment and poor nutrition — are stark, and they’re only getting worse. Since ICE was created in 2003, there have been more than 175 confirmed deaths in detention centers nationwide. Since October 2016, 11 immigrants have died while in custody, the highest number since 2011.
Between January 2010 and July 2016, there were 33,126 complaints of sexual or physical abuse in immigration detention facilities, with just 1.7 percent of those complaints leading to an investigation by the federal government. “If we can educate the public and our legislators about how our tax dollars go to perpetrating human and civil rights abuses, that’s one step toward change,” Fialho says. “The second is providing alternatives to [detention centers].”
The alternatives championed by CIVIC work similarly to refugee resettlement programs, says Fialho, in which a nonprofit typically steps in to help immigrants obtain housing, a social security card and, if necessary, legal support. “Individuals may spend weeks, months or even years in detention centers,” says Fialho. “We’ve been working to get those people released and provide them with support.”
CIVIC’s efforts have been “critically important” in helping detainees feel less isolated, supporting their legal cases and advocating on their behalf, says Victoria Lopez, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. She also sees potential for change through the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a bipartisan law passed in 2003 and standardized by the Department of Homeland Security in 2014 to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse and assault at its detention centers.
The hope, says Lopez, is that CIVIC’s “recent efforts in telling the stories and collecting information about sexual assaults will have an impact on how the implementation of PREA moves forward.”


This past summer CIVIC, along with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, successfully advocated for the inclusion of a provision in a California budget bill that limits ICE’s expansion of detention centers in the state. It’s the first law of its kind in the country, and it bars all new contracts between local municipalities and ICE for the next 10 years. CIVIC also co-sponsored the Dignity Not Detention Act, recently signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown, that freezes the growth of for-profit immigrant detention centers — another first in the U.S.
“Our budget bill stopped the spread of immigration detention facilities run by county jails in California,” Fialho says, noting that 70 percent of people detained in the state and nationwide are held in for-profit facilities.
Increasingly, Fialho has her sights on shaping policy at the national level. Her team has already began filing federal civil rights complaints, including one that alleges rising sexual abuse inside the centers and another that claims detainees at one California facility are frequently denied visits from attorneys and family members.
Fialho and CIVIC have also consulted on a federal budget amendment to stop immigrant detention expansion nationwide and are co-sponsors of a new bill introduced in October called the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which builds upon the organization’s achievements in California. “We’ve been able to push for policy change,” says Fialho. “That’s been really powerful.”

The Rx for Better Birth Control

Back in 2015, word was going around on social media claiming that Colorado — a state that battled high unwanted pregnancy rates for years — had reduced those numbers drastically by changing the way women accessed birth control.
The rumor was right.
Unwanted pregnancies among Colorado women ages 15 to 19 years old have dropped by 54 percent over the past seven years, thanks in large part to the state providing access to intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and long-lasting birth control. The move enabled another progressive bill aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies to win universal support between Republicans and Democrats.
“I think that if I’m being really honest, we were pretty surprised at the robust bipartisan support we got on this,” says Sarah Taylor-Nanista, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. “We anticipated it to be a lot more controversial than it was, and it was really heartening to see it go through the way that it did.”
The bill, which was signed into law in June 2017 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, allows women to receive a 12-month prescription of birth control pills or patch at no-cost after an initial, one-time, three-month prescription. The bill also required the state to cover three-month vaginal rings, which also prevent pregnancy.
note from the state’s independent governing research body, the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, found that the change in the law would result in “minimal” impacts to the fiscal budget, although it could affect insurance premiums paid by the state, assuaging conservative fears that an exorbitant amount of state funding being funneled towards contraception.
“Sometimes it’s a long ways to the pharmacy,” says Sen. Don Coram, who sponsored the Senate bill and lobbied other Republican senators to view the bill through an economic lens. “The fact is that if you want to end a cycle of poverty, you prevent unplanned pregnancy.”
The bill passed the state Senate with bipartisan support, 22-11.
Coram, a self-proclaimed “redneck Republican,” extolled the social benefits of contraceptive accessibility, something usually heard from more progressive leaders.
“It’s just a common sense thing. I’m from rural Colorado where 70 percent of my district is federally owned land. I don’t have a Walgreens around the block,” he tells NationSwell. “And the fact is, birth control only works when you take it.”

Purple support

Polls conducted in 2014 by Planned Parenthood showed contraception is a nonpartisan issue nationwide — something Colorado legislators were able to use in their advantage. According to Colorado state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, a bit of manipulative planning was required to get bilateral support.
“I’ll tell you one thing I did when [testimonies] were heard in the Senate: I asked Planned Parenthood to stay home,” Landgraf tells NationSwell. “As soon as they come to the House, people start thinking about Planned Parenthood and all the negative connotations that it has for some Republicans. Not as if their testimony wasn’t helpful, but if it leads one mind’s astray from the actual problem, there’s no value in it.”
Landgraf says that the bill was a “good bill for women and for men,” but preconceived notions about the organization needed to be erased. In their efforts to replace the ACA, Republicans on the national stage have argued for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but swing states and districts overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing access to contraceptives.
That’s because increased accessibility is especially good for women in rural areas, says Erika Hanson, a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“These types of laws disproportionately affects women in rural areas, because as with many for services in rural areas, it is very difficult for women to access healthcare,” Hanson tells NationSwell, adding that the NWLC offers a hotline specifically to provide assistance to women who have a hard time accessing contraception. “We hear from thousands of women who are having troubles getting coverage or getting access to birth control and often it is as simple as they can’t find an in-network provider that’s close enough to them. Or they’re getting the runaround from their insurance company about what pharmacy to go to, which may not be close.”
After some initial pushback from Republicans in 2015, the success of Colorado’s IUD program — including a savings of $111 million in birth-related Medicaid costs by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — was enough to convince members of both parties in the state legislature that it deserved to be expanded.

Time bound coverage?

Washington’s tug-of-war over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused states to be wary of future legislation changing the existing contraception mandate, which requires insurers to cover all forms of contraception (though only from one manufacturer). That aspect of the bill has been widely praised among women for eliminating costs associated with getting birth control.
In 2015, during a heated partisan debate on whether privately-held companies should be forced to offer birth control coverage, 49 congress members signed a letter urging the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, to provide a roadmap to insurers for 12-month contraceptive coverage for women across the nation.
No federal guidelines were issued as a result of the letter.
In response, several other states have also expanded coverage beyond federal regulations.
Traditional blue states, such as Oregon and California, have also made oral contraceptives and patches available for year-long prescriptions, a move that reduces unwanted pregnancy by 30 percent. That same study, conducted by the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center, reports that extended contraception coverage also lowers the number of abortions by 40 percent.
California also made it a requirement that insurance plans pay for all forms and all brands of birth control. Research shows that lack of brand choice causes two-fifths of women to go without birth control.
But women in states with expanded coverage are at-risk of losing it if their employer disagrees with the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. President Trump is expected to eliminate an Obama-era rule requiring employers to provide birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The new rule, which mirrors an earlier draft and is expected to be written any day now, would allow employers to omit birth control coverage from health insurance plans completely, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats say 50 million women in the U.S. will be forced to pay for birth control out of pocket.
But the win for contraceptive rights in Colorado is not lost on Planned Parenthood’s Taylor-Nanista, who wants to continue the momentum of bipartisanship within the state and hopefully the rest of the nation, especially in a time where female contraception coverage is at stake.
“Many of our activists and patients are feeling really concerned and hopeless,” she says. “But I think this bill is a great example of what we can do when we think strategically.”

Republicans and Democrats Love This Anti-Poverty Policy

Historically, Democrats and Republicans have seldom seen eye-to-eye on any tax issue — except the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit at both the state and federal levels given to the working poor. Conservatives support it because it’s connected to earned income; liberals believe the government should provide financial support to needy families.
Today, an estimated 28 million low and moderate-income families could benefit from the EITC (eligibility is determined by annual household income, the number of hours worked and number of children), which is now widely regarded as the most successful way to get families above the poverty line, according to policy analysts.
As bickering across the aisle creates an impasse in our nation’s capital, lawmakers in California recently approved a bipartisan solution (introduced by a Republican, passed by a Democratic dominated legislature) that could provide a model for federal lawmakers debating tax reform and how best to help struggling Americans.


Introduced in 1975, Congress passed the federal EITC at a time many other welfare programs were being criticized for their wild inefficiencies (most were eventually scrapped). Its aim: To get people back to work and off of public assistance by returning a portion of their income tax payment.
Throughout its existence, the credit has been expanded by every president, with Ronald Reagan (who called it “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress”) backing one of the biggest increases.
In 2016, The American Action Forum, a conservative-leaning economic policy group, recognized the benefit of expanding the credit. And a 2014 House Budget Committee Report, headed by Republicans, said the credit was “an effective tool for encouraging and rewarding work among lower-income individuals, particularly single mothers.”
Despite this, Republican support has dwindled in recent years as far right members of the GOP advocate for significant cuts to government spending.
In 2014, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he would agree to an expansion of the EITC, but only if it wouldn’t result in increased spending. (Experts said that growth of the program would inevitably mean more money would be returned to workers, costing the federal government an estimated $91 billion, based upon 2015 tax code.)
Conservatives have also argued that there’s no need to expand the EITC since an increase in the minimum wage would provide the same monetary benefits to workers.
And there is concern about fraud. The Internal Revenue Service estimates close to $13 billion in credits, or 21 to 26 percent of filings, were given out that likely shouldn’t have been.


California has been a progressive leader in sustainability practices and social programs, but until recently, its EITC efforts lagged behind states like Maryland, Minnesota and Rhode Island, all which expanded their credit programs in 2014. (Rhode Island legislators backed further expansion last year.)
“California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, counting the cost of living, and families still need to make several times the federal poverty level income to afford basic necessities,” states an opinion piece in the Orange County Register, adding that families would need a minimum wage of $31 per hour to survive in the state.
By these standards, an expansion was necessary.
In June, the state expanded its EITC to meet the minimums needed for a family to get by in one of the nation’s most expensive states, where the average rent is 50 percent higher than the rest of the country.
The expansion enables independent contractors and freelancers working in California’s gig economy to qualify for the credit, now mirroring federal and other states’ rules. It also increased the minimum income requirements from $13,870 to $22,300 so that families earning the state’s new minimum wage could qualify.


The Anti-Poverty Program That Transcends Divides, CityLab

America’s Youngest Mayor

During the 20th century, Stockton was a commercial hub between Sacramento and San Francisco. It had military installations and was regularly used as a Hollywood set. But when Michael Tubbs grew up there in the 1990s, gunshots whizzed in the streets and more than half of the city’s high schoolers dropped out before graduation.  
Tubbs was raised by his mother, who had him at 16. In a high-school essay, Tubbs describes meeting his father for the first time at the age of 12. He was in chains and dressed in an orange jumpsuit at the Kern County Prison. “Why are you here,” Tubbs recalls asking.
His dad responded: “Prison is your destiny. From birth you are set up to fail. …You’re a black man in America, and it’s either prison or death.”
His father’s words have never left him. They settled in his core and drive his ambition.
In less than two decades he’s graduated from Stanford, captured Oprah Winfrey’s attention and worked at Google. Once a White House intern, he’s also famously set his sights on the presidency. In 2008, during Barack Obama’s first presidential bid, Tubbs met the then Illinois senator and recalls: “I looked at him, shook his hand and told him, ‘I’m next.’” Obama reportedly said, “Okay.”
But for now, Tubbs is focused on his Californian city. The goals he’s set for himself as mayor are lofty: Lowering unemployment (8.3 percent in February 2017), raising graduation rates (82.6 percent in 2015), lowering violent crime (25 instances of murder between January and June 2016) and attracting a major philanthropic investment, like the $816 million Detroit received from the Ford Foundation and other donors to save its art museum.
“I’m tired of talking about where we’ve been. I’m more interested in talking about where we’re going,” Tubbs said at his victory party, “We have to mature as a community and start demanding solutions.”
But finding them will require deft political skill. The average Stockton resident earns $19,900 annually, yet the city has little ability to provide revitalizing social services, considering it’s still recovering after declaring bankruptcy in 2012.
Tubbs’s approach to government taps an innovation-based strategy much like the tech campuses in nearby Silicon Valley. He pilots small projects and relentlessly studies the data to determine what’s most effective for the lowest cost. He’s also investing in long-term fixes — rather than short-term patches that drained city coffers — so that the kids born today will have more opportunity than he did.
“I would say I’m solution-oriented. I don’t want to know how this can’t happen. Tell me how it can,” Tubbs says.
Some of his earliest efforts — ones he helped initiate as a Stockton city council member — have established Tubbs reputation as so-called “doer.” He closed liquor stores in South Stockton, opened a health clinic and worked with young people on community cleanup projects.
As mayor, however, he faces inherent challenges that come with the implementation of his early projects. For example, as a council member, Tubbs was a key advocate for distributing body cameras to Stockton’s police officers as a way of raising accountability. In August 2016 (prior to Tubbs’s mayoral election), a 30-year-old man named Colby Friday was killed in an officer-involved shooting. An officer’s body camera failed to capture the incident because it was not activated. A nearby security camera did record the event, and the district attorney has agreed to share that footage with Friday’s family.
In another incident, when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a city council meeting in February, Tubbs announced a five-minute break and abruptly left the podium, angering his one-time supporters. A month later, he tells NationSwell his number-one rule about politics: “It takes thick skin.”

Mayor Michael Tubbs with Stockton school students. He wants the city’s young people to have more opportunity than he did growing up there.

During his 2016 run for mayor, Tubbs built his campaign around the idea of creating opportunities and stability for the people of Stockton. And it worked. He beat his opponent, Republican Anthony Silva, by almost 40 points.
Tubbs credits the young interns who canvassed and phoned banked for him with drumming up civic engagement in the city. In contrast to many of Tubbs’s childhood peers, these teens are some of the loudest voices in the ears of Stockton’s elected officials.
“My phone does not stop ringing, because the young people we’ve trained expect more from their elected officials,” says Lange Luntao, a Stockton school board member.
Michael Tubbs and his friends grew up believing they needed to leave Stockton to find opportunity and a better life. Once gone, few ever felt the need to return. Already, Tubbs is inspiring more of his young constituents to stay. With time, perhaps others from his own generation will return.
Editors’ note: A previous version of this article stated that the Colby Friday incident was reportedly captured on a police officer body camera. NationSwell apologizes for the error.

How President Trump’s Federal Budget Hits 3 Model Programs Gradually

At NationSwell, our mission is to highlight solutions driving America forward. From rural Appalachia to South Central Los Angeles, we’ve covered the work of dedicated individuals fighting to improve people’s lives. Here are a few updates on how President Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts to social programs could gradually rollback the positive impact made by these initiatives.

Solar Trumps Coal When It Comes to Jobs, Cash Handouts Deter Crime in California and More

Solar Now Provides Twice As Many Jobs As the Coal Industry, Co.Exist
While the coal industry faces a sharp decline, solar power is growing at record levels — adding jobs at a rate 17 times faster than the overall workforce. The industry is also a more lucrative option for people without higher education. As one advocate puts it, “This is just an incredible example of the opportunities that exist for people that need these opportunities the most.”
Building Trust Cuts Violence. Cash Also Helps. The New York Times
A radical approach to gun violence has helped reduce the homicide rate by nearly 60 percent in Richmond, Calif., formerly one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. Spearheaded by DeVone Boggan, a NationSwell Council member, the program identifies those most likely to be involved in violent crimes and pays them a stipend to turn their lives around. Aside from the cash benefits, participants receive mentoring from “neighborhood change agents” who have come out of lives of crime themselves.
Iceland Knows How to Stop Teen Substance Abuse but the Rest of the World Isn’t Listening, Mosaic Science
In the last two decades, Iceland has implemented an ambitious social program that’s nearly eliminated substance abuse among teens. After research showed that young people were becoming addicted to the changes in brain chemistry brought on by drugs and alcohol, experts decided to “orchestrate a social movement around natural highs,” offering extensive after-school programs in sports, dance, music — anything that could replicate the rush of drugs. This, coupled with stricter laws and closer ties between parents and schools, led to a huge societal makeover. Proponents of the program hope to recreate it in the U.S., but funding and public opinion remain obstacles.
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