If you're horrified by the thought of a Muslim registry, consider this: It already exists.

On Monday, Dec. 12, hundreds of Muslims and allies took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to take a stand against a possible Muslim registry.

The march, organized by MoveOn.org, Desis Rising Up & Moving, CREDO, and others, saw participants travel from the U.S. Department of Justice to the White House to urge President Obama to take action to prevent his successor, President-elect Donald Trump, from creating a Muslim registry.

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for MoveOn.org.


"In these moments, before Trump even takes office, it's important to begin building cross-sectional coalitions — especially to protect and defend frontline communities," Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn.org writes in an email. "Our march did just that — it brought together a diverse group of organizations to stand with Muslim communities in a time when it's so needed."

It's easy to dismiss the idea that Donald Trump will create a registry for Muslims as farfetched — until you realize that one basically already exists.

In 2002, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). The program required noncitizens in the U.S. from 25 countries (24 with majority-Muslim populations) to register with DHS. The program created 93,000 cases, but never lead to a single terrorism-related conviction. Finally, in 2011, the Obama administration delisted the countries from the system, effectively ending the NSEERs program.

Ali and others involved in the march want the administration to take things a step further and eliminate the program altogether, writing that shuttering NSEERS "would give Muslim communities a fighting chance under the Trump administration."

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for MoveOn.org.

But does Trump really want to create a database of Muslims?

In late 2015, Trump said he would "absolutely" require Muslims to register. When asked by an NBC reporter how his plan to register Muslims was different from the registry for Jews in Nazi Germany, he simply replied, "You tell me." He's also called for a ban on Muslims traveling to the U.S. and suggested the government should be surveilling mosques.

Sure, he's walked back some of that language from time to time. And yes, his son Eric recently told a comedian on a transatlantic flight that there wouldn't be a registry. Still, it should be noted that Trump's plan to suspend Muslim travel to the U.S. remains on his website. Even more disturbing, it seems, is what he has in store for the NSEERS program.

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for MoveOn.org

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped craft NSEERS. He's also a frontrunner to run Trump's DHS.

It was Kobach, along with John Ashcroft, who designed and implemented NSEERS, and thanks to an accidental glimpse from a recent meeting with Trump, it seems like the dormant program will be making a comeback.

In the photo below from Trump and Kobach's Nov. 20 meeting, the document in Kobach's left hand is titled, "Department of Homeland Security. Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days." The first item on the list? Reintroduce NSEERS. Additionally, Kobach has outright said that the new administration is preparing plans for the registry.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Earlier this month, 51 Democratic members of Congress called on President Obama to destroy NSEERS.

In the letter, members of the House highlight some of the big problems with the program and warn of what could happen if it returned. In short, it ravaged communities and instilled distrust.

"When instituted in 2002, the program caused widespread and palpable fear in affected communities, separated families and caused much harm to people affected by it. Boys and men were required to register with local immigration offices, were interrogated, and subjected to serious due process violation. Communities saw family members and neighbors disappear in the middle of the night, held in overcrowded jails and deported without due process. More than 13,000 people were placed in removal proceedings, businesses closed down, and students were forced to leave school with degrees uncompleted."

If President Obama were to rescind the program in its entirety, it would buy civil rights organizations and Congressional opponents of the program some much-needed time to fight back against any efforts by the new administration to start from scratch. It's something he can do before leaving office.

Organizers of Monday's protests delivered petitions totaling more than 341,000 signatures urging the White House to take action.

Photo by MoveOn/Flickr.

While the fate of the NSEERS program rests in the Obama administration's hands, there are things that everyday people can do to help our Muslim friends, family, and neighbors.

"Allies can help by taking leadership from Muslims and Muslim communities who have already been impacted by similar policies that Donald Trump is suggesting," Ali suggests. "Many of these policies aren't new for our communities — what is new is the newfound solidarity that we are seeing and that is really important."

She suggests donating to Muslim-led organizations such as Desis Rising Up and Moving and MPower Change.

Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for MoveOn.org.

The coming years will be tough for marginalized groups. That's why it's important for those of us in a position to help stand in solidarity against oppression.

This is something that goes beyond the White House or political parties, but to the core of who we are as people and who we want to be as a country. When oppression exists, where people's rights and expectation of equal treatment are at risk, that's worth fighting for. Today, Muslims are being singled out for disparate treatment; tomorrow, it could be another group.

One thing is clear: People do not belong in a database or a registry like this. Let's take a stand for what is right.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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