New U.S. citizens are racing to the polls for the first time this year. They told us why.

In 2016, the American melting pot is more diverse than ever before, and it's showing in who's heading to the ballot box on Nov. 8.

Despite warnings of low-voter turnout, a record-breaking 200 million people are registered to vote in the upcoming election. A large portion of that figure represents new U.S. citizens casting ballots for the very first time. If early indicators have told us anything, it's that these folks are putting their votes where their livelihoods are.

An early voting location in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.


We spoke to four first-time voters from across the country who are also new U.S. citizens. Here's what they had to say about the 2016 presidential election.

(Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Julissa Arce: A 33-year-old author from Los Angeles, California, who became a citizen in 2014.

"I had sacrificed so much to be able to be in this country. And to finally be recognized by my country as one of its citizens was a really beautiful moment."

Julissa speaking at The Berkeley Forum. Image via Julissa Arce, used with permission.

Why Julissa feels so strongly about voting: "If you don't vote, then you're letting someone else make decisions about how you're going to live your life. This election in particular, I can't fathom not going out and voting. It's the most critical election in our lifetime."

Who she's planning on voting for: "I'm voting for Hillary. And by the way, I'm not voting for Hillary because she's not Donald Trump. I'm voting for Hillary because I truly believe she's the best person, the most qualified candidate, to lead our country."

A critical issue she thinks needs more attention: "The media coverage around climate change hasn't been there. It's like a couple sentences here and there. And the reality is if we don't have a planet, none of these other things matter."

Her thoughts on Donald Trump: "The silver lining is that we have a clearer picture of the work that has to get done. The reason Donald Trump is where he is is because there are literally millions of other people who think like he does, who believe in the things he believes in. While that's a scary thought, it also shines a light on the fact that these issues have never gone away: racism, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia. It's not that they didn't exist in our country; they were buried."

Robin Wood-Mason: A 31-year-old director of development at a nonprofit preschool, who lives in Denver, Colorado, and became a citizen in 2014.

"The folks that think they'll just sit the election out — as a new citizen, it absolutely infuriates me that people take that process for granted and don't give it the respect that it deserves."

Image via Robin Wood-Mason, used with permission.

On misconceptions about immigrants: "It was interesting being a white male and being an immigrant [from the U.K.] and seeing how people perceive you differently. When you say, 'immigrant,' people assume Latino and other people of color, and it's been bizarre seeing how different people have responded to learning that about me."

The most important issue this election cycle: "The biggest thing for me has been the Supreme Court and wanting to make sure that whoever gets to appoint the next two to three justices shares a lot of my values. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party far better align with what I think America's real values are or should be. We might actually be able to have a Supreme Court that values diversity and progressive issues and makes sure that people get to live with a sense of equality."

On his passionate support for Hillary Clinton: "My husband will tell you that I'm addicted to hitting the donate button in almost every one of the emails [sent from her campaign]."

An issue he thinks should be making more headlines this election: "I would like to see more conversation around renewing our support for AIDS research. Things like [HIV prevention drug] PrEP — making that widely available through Medicaid and Medicare — and coming up with other sources of funding for us to make sure we're really putting an end to the HIV epidemic, particularly as it's shifted away from being 'the gay guys' disease' that it was in the late '80s and '90s. Now that it's hitting people that are using injection drugs, and it's shifted into being more about poverty than anything else — how can we address that?"

Barbara Cenalmor: A 43-year-old engineer from Chandler, Arizona, who became a citizen in 2013.

"As a legal resident, you pretty much can do anything that a citizen can do except vote. And for me, I wanted to be able to vote — not only for president, but also on local level politics. It really affects my kids, my kids' schools, the city where I live."

Image via Barbara Cenalmor, used with permission.

Her take on a two-party system: "To me, it seems like the two-party system has not worked well. I think this year it's become clear that voting for the party does not work; it does not work for a lot of people. I've been here for other elections — and I've been in Spain, where elections are pretty brutal too — but how it's turning into some kind of reality TV show where everybody just rips everybody apart. It's stressing me out."

On disliking Trump...: "I definitely don't want Trump to be the president."

...but disliking Clinton only slightly less: "I'm a little bit disappointed with myself [for planning to vote for Clinton]. But I think that, if I didn't vote and then Trump won, I would be mad at myself — especially if he wins by a small margin."

On voting for things other than the presidency: "The two big propositions in Arizona, which [are] recreational marijuana and the minimum wage, I think they're huge. I'm still reading through them. I'm one of those people that, unfortunately, I cannot make decisions until I've done an incredible amount of research, which I know is exhausting. [laughs] It's just my personality."

On the outside world's view of Donald Trump: "I actually traveled to different European countries this summer, and everywhere I went, the question was, 'That's a joke right? He's not a real candidate?' It's embarrassing."  

A critical issue she thinks needs more attention: "One of the most important issues lately is race and police. I don't think it's being very well addressed by either candidate. I don't think it's been a big focus, and it's a huge thing that's happening in the country — race relations in general. We need to sit down and figure out what's going on and how do we fix this."

Juan Carlos D. Ruiz Durán: A 29-year-old student from Olympia, Washington, who became a citizen in 2013.

"As a first time voter, I feel like I'm actually participating in the overall conversation more because I have these privileges now. Permanent residency almost makes you a second-class citizen — you get some benefits but not all. You can get a job here, live here, own a house, but you can't vote."  

Image via Juan Carlos D. Ruiz Durån, used with permission.

On why he stays focused on the issues — not the politics: "I would say, as far as the overall political system, I'm not totally engaged, but I am engaged in the activist side of it which advocates for diversity and equity within college, school, access to resources, and people's rights."

Why he's voting with higher education in mind: "I think, as far as our society goes, that's really where a lot of innovation and creativity comes from — college. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs [who both didn't graduate from college] are not typical examples of innovators."

On voting for Hillary Clinton after supporting Bernie Sanders: "Hillary has a lot more experience; she also has a problematic past. And it's not like I'm forgetting about that, but comparing that to the Republican base, which, to me, is just fanatical, like espousing the most ignorant stuff I've heard — and a few of my family are also Republican, who say the same stuff, the same problematic language — I've just transitioned [to supporting Clinton]. The lesser of two evils in a sense. But I'm optimistic policy will be more progressive."

On social justice around race playing a role this election: "There are extremes, but in the middle, there is a concise, very direct message: Stop killing black people and indigenous women and men and immigrant folks. That's really what's made this election cycle more colorful in that sense — you can see a lot more of people's colors and their opinions than before."

The coolest thing about our democracy is that it doesn't matter where you live or where you come from — you can have a seat at the table.

You just have to vote.

Not sure if you're registered? Find out now.

Wondering what day your state's registration deadline is? There's a website for that.

And don't forget — you might live in a state with same-day registration.

Don't watch from the sidelines Nov. 8. Make your voice heard.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Justine Tuckett's Instagram highlighting moments with dad.

Birthdays. Sports games. Holidays. Sharing a bowl of cereal on a Sunday afternoon … these are just some of the moments, big and small, that are missed when a parent is incarcerated. And sadly, they can't be replaced.

But sometimes, second chances do come around. For father and daughter Bill Lorance and Justine Tuckett, that second chance came in the form of a TikTok dance. They didn't take it for granted, and now they're making up for lost time. It's not only a win for the father-daughter duo, it shows how rehabilitation is possible and that people don't have to be defined by their mistakes.

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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