Supreme Court news getting you down? Get ready to vote this November.

Democratic voter turnout has been way up this year. Let's put that in a bit of historical context.

The New York Times has a great graphic showing how Democratic primary election turnout has changed between 2014 and 2018. Their analysis found that Democratic turnout is up in at least 123 congressional races. Republicans experienced a similar boost between 2006 and 2010, the year they picked up 63 congressional seats and took control of the House of Representatives.

The news in this last week of June 2018 — packed with controversial Supreme Court decisions and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy — is in many ways the result of Republican enthusiasm in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. While a lot of Democrats are (probably rightly) feeling good about the energy they've seen so far (a trend that held up on June 27), it only matters if people actually show up in November.


Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon at Ocasio-Cortez's victory party. Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.

Midterm elections might not be as sexy as presidential ones, but they're just as important. Let's look at 2014, for example.

According to the United States Elections Project, just 36.7% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. People simply weren't excited about it or energized enough to get out and vote. Enthusiasm was so low that Pew Research dubbed it the "'meh' midterm." A lot of people sat the election out, and as a result, Republicans picked up nine Senate seats, giving them total control of Congress.

It also gave them the ability to deny Merrick Garland, Obama's 2016 nominee to the Supreme Court, hearings and a vote on his confirmation. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) kept the vacancy open long enough for Trump to take office a year later and install conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Court, where he'll serve likely for the next 30 years or so.

The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot lately, with a lot of decisions coming down to a single justice.

Recently, the Court issued rulings on the legality of Trump's "Muslim Ban," the right for "crisis pregnancy centers" to trick people into thinking they provide services that they don't, and a question about union dues. Those were all 5-4 decisions with Gorsuch joining the conservative majority each time.

Would people have gotten out to vote in the "'meh' midterm" if they knew exactly what kind of long-term consequences awaited? Maybe. That's just the thing, though: When we vote, we're setting in motion a series of events that we can't ever fully understand at the time. There's no way to know how Garland would have ruled in any specific Supreme Court case (though there's reason to believe he would be significantly more moderate than Gorsuch), and there was no way of knowing at the time of the 2014 election that there would be another open seat on the court just two years later.

Just as Republican enthusiasm in 2014 arguably gave us Justice Gorsuch, Democratic energy this year could drive long-term change.

If Democrats can take back control of the Senate, as Republicans did in 2014, they could force Trump to nominate more moderate judges (and fewer paranormal investigators) to lifetime appointments. They'd be able to serve as a much-needed check on his powers — as the first 18 months of his presidency shows Republicans are unlikely to do.

The United States Supreme Court building. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that your vote matters in every election.

Some sit out elections as a way to "send a message," but what message is that exactly? There's no way to differentiate between non-voters who sit out elections because they have issues with one candidate or another and those who are simply apathetic to the political system as a whole. To the people in power, it makes no difference.

The same can probably be said for so-called "protest votes," in which someone casts a ballot for a candidate with no chance of winning, such as a fictional character or themselves.

Apathy can't win, and it's why it's so exciting when candidates with bold ideas like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are getting involved in politics and finding success. For some, like Ocasio-Cortez, the right to create a better world means running for Congress. For others, it means voting for candidates who share our values, marching in the streets, or volunteering for campaigns we believe in.

It's simple: Your vote matters in every election. Not sure if you're registered? Pop on over to usa.gov to check. This is an especially good idea given that there's been a recent uptick in states purging registered voters from their rolls on a variety of technicalities or instituting cumbersome new ID requirements. Both those actions are examples of voter suppression — attempts to disenfranchise voters (and it's important to fight back against those efforts as well). If you're not registered, you can figure out how to do it right on that website (each state has different rules and requirements).

Once you've got that all taken care of, the next step is to tell a friend or two about just how important the 2018 election will be.

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!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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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."