This American town is being swallowed by the sea, and there's no one stepping up to save the people.
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Sierra Club

It was 2002 when the residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, voted to move their entire town.

The writing was on the wall — or, perhaps more accurately, the water was splashing up between their toes.

The shores of their small island home off the western coast of Alaska had been eroding for decades, with anywhere between three and nine feet of shoreline being swallowed up by the Chukchi Sea on a good year.


In a bad year, it was closer to 23 feet.


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

While their island status posed its own unique issues, Shishmaref was just one of the 31 Alaskan towns facing this exact same problem.

They put together an action plan for relocation and submitted it to the federal government.

It would be another two years until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed their own assessment of the situation. Based on their findings, it would cost an estimated $179 million dollars and between five and 15 years to move the 600 residents of Shishmaref to a new location on the Alaskan mainland. 11 potential new locations were then identified — but of course, that took some time as well.

Meanwhile, the town constructed a 200-foot long seawall to protect the northern coast of the island, a temporary solution to slow the effects of erosion while they awaited the bureaucratic process.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

By late 2006, they had settled on a new place to call home, Tin Creek, with a plan to move in April 2009.

The Tin Creek relocation area was just 12 miles across the inlet from Shishmaref, which meant that residents who relied on hunting and fishing would still have access to their same game spots.

While they waited for plans to fall into place, the residents of Shishmaref had to build two additional extensions to their protective seawall, bringing it all the way to 2,800 feet in length.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Sure, it sapped some of their already-limited resources to keep adding on to this temporary barrier in a place they wouldn't be for very much longer. But it was all worth it because the threat of rising sea-levels caused by melting polar ice caps in the increasingly-warmer Arctic climate would soon be a distant memory.

Or a 12-mile-away memory, anyway.

OK, well, technically it would still be all around them, but at least their homes wouldn't actually be falling into the water anymore ... right?


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

It's 2015, and Shishmaref is still exactly where it's always been — only now it's an even smaller sliver of land.

It's not because they're stubborn or beholden to their homes. Frankly, there's no good reason for it at all, and there's no one thing to blame.

It could have something to do with the fact that the Tin Creek relocation area turned out to be a melting plot of permafrost that's facing the exact same problems as modern-day Shishmaref. Or it might have to do with the the cost of living in Alaska, which is already too high — especially in a place like Shishmaref, where 30% of people already live in poverty and a roundtrip ticket off the island costs nearly $400 per person.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Maybe they're still stuck there waiting for help that might never come because the funding for the relocation project all fell through — which in turn might have something to do with the fact that their only champion in Washington, D.C., was arrested.

Or it could be because federal relief funds are reserved for sudden natural disasters such as hurricanes, and rising water levels aren't considered an emergency because we've known about the disastrous effects of climate change for so long but have never done anything about it.

Personally, I think Occam's Razor makes the most sense and that the federal government simply can't be bothered to spend millions of dollars on a handful of poverty-stricken Inupiat in a remote corner of the country.

Whatever the reasoning, one thing is sure: We have left our fellow U.S. citizens to drown in the wake of a manmade disaster.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It's only a matter of time before what happened to Shishmaref happens to the mainland United States.

That's not hyperbole. At the rate we're going, the coastal parts of the country, including California and New Jersey, are headed toward their own watery graves. Even if you feel safe in landlocked state, it'll still have disastrous results for the economy (and of course, the effects of climate change won't stop there).

So maybe, just maybe, it's time we do something about it?

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

We can start by demanding that President Obama protect the Arctic Circle, which will maybe give our Alaskan neighbors a fighting chance before they're totally devoured by the Chukchi Sea. In turn, that might help slow the effects of climate change for the rest of us as well.

You can also support the Alaska Coastal Villages Relief Fund for the Support of Children and Families or give directly to any of the other Alaskan towns that could use your help to fund their relocation efforts.

Here's a trailer for a full-length documentary film titled "The Last Days of Shishmaref," in case you haven't seen enough:

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!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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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."