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Prop what? Judge who? State rep whatever? Don't make this rookie voting mistake.

We did it, everybody. After a seemingly endless campaign, we're almost to the finish line. There's just one last thing to do: vote.

Prop what? Judge who? State rep whatever? Don't make this rookie voting mistake.

The presidential race has taken the spotlight these past months, but it's nowhere near the only thing you'll vote for on Election Day.

Depending on who you ask, it might not even be the most important thing you'll be voting for (and you may not even know it). Overshadowed by the talk of Trump versus Clinton are some really important down-ballot races going on that might determine your next senator, governor, congressperson, and much more.

That's where BallotView comes in.


A view of a ballot scanner at a New York City Board of Elections voting machine facility. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

When it comes to getting information about down-ballot races, finding what you need isn't always easy. BallotView, a website created by five students at the University of Southern California, could change that.

Designed to be a simple, intuitive, and user-friendly way for voters to gather essential election information, BallotView accomplishes what several others have tried throughout the past several years. Visitors to the website simply have to type in their address and they'll be shown what is essentially a sample ballot for all races specific to their federal, state, and local elections.

Even better, the interface provides some background information on candidates and propositions, sourced from Ballotpedia, and allows users to save their completed sample ballot for use on election day.

Photo courtesy of Michael Lim.

Facebook and Twitter recently rolled out similar tools aimed at helping people get the info they need to make informed decisions.

BallotView's creators — Andrew Jiang, Michael Lim, Lucas Johnson, Alex Teboul, and Arush Shankar — want to make sure voters go into the voting booth fully informed.

In California, more than a dozen propositions that have immense consequences for the state are put on the ballot each election. In 2008, for example, the state's voters approved Proposition 8, a measure that revoked same-sex marriage rights from citizens (though this was later overturned by the Supreme Court).

This year is no different with measures dictating the future of the death penalty, a question of whether to ban plastic bags, and questions on the pricing of prescription drugs all up for a vote.

(L to R) Sophomore Andrew Jiang and seniors Michael Lim, Lucas Johnson, Alex Teboul and Arush Shankar created BallotView to appeal to millennial voters across the country this election season. Photo courtesy of Michael Lim.

Down-ballot measures matter in a big, big way.

Yes, the president is an important role, but whether the president will be able to implement much of their agenda depends on which party controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, and even, to some degree, state governorships and legislatures. From what laws will pass to how those laws will be implemented and enforced to what Supreme Court nominees actually make it onto the court, these are areas where down-ballot votes will affect the country.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Informed voters are good voters. Good voters make for a more accountable government.

“If people aren’t aware of what is going to be voted on, then it just kind of opens the door for either poorly written legislation or allowing special interest groups to make their way onto the ballot,” explained Lim, an economics and neuroscience student, in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “We’re hoping that our product can help people sift through all the information in a much friendlier and quicker way, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and [instead] feel empowered.”

Election staff inspect mail-in ballots before scanning them at the King County Department of Elections in Renton, Washington. Photo by Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images.

There's nothing worse (OK, there are actually many things worse) than rolling up to your polling place and not knowing who you're going to vote for. But knowing that is a big deal!

What is Prop 79? Where does this candidate stand on environmental rights? What even IS a comptroller?

If you're going to take part in the democratic process (and hopefully you do because, yes, your voice deserves to be heard), you're going to want to be as informed as possible going into the voting booth. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking — and feeling — a little bit foolish.

How foolish? Well, check out this video put together by the team at BallotView where they asked people what their positions were on a few fake propositions!

That's on the ballot? As this hilarious prank shows, we should all be aware of the other issues on our local ballot. (via ballotview.org)

Posted by Upworthy on Saturday, November 5, 2016
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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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."