We the people have the power to change nonsensical bills. Here's how.

By now, you've probably heard about North Carolina's HB2 "bathroom bill" — or at least the response to it.

Even if you're not typically someone who follows North Carolina state politics (there are only so many hours in the day), it's likely you've seen stories about musicians like Bruce Springsteen boycotting the state, the NBA moving its 2017 all-star game to Louisiana, a Broadway composer speaking out, or the NCAA adjusting its tournament schedule as a result of the March 2016 law.

In September 2016, the NCAA announced it would move seven championship games out of the state. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.


The part of the law that's received the most focus has to do with whether transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identity (as they have been, to your knowledge or not, for pretty much forever).

The law's proponents believe trans people should have to use bathrooms that match whatever gender is on their birth certificate — a legal document that is notoriously difficult, and sometimes impossible, to update — which causes a host of issues we've written about before.

North Carolina's Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the controversial bill into law in March 2016. Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images.

In other words, it's a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad law. On top of that, just 32% of the state's voters approve of it, the cancelled events and boycotts aren't exactly helping the state's economy, it's giving the governor headaches in his re-election bid, and lawmakers have had to allocate $500,000 in emergency funding for the law's legal defense.

So, why do legislatures sometimes pass unpopular laws that don't seem to make sense? It's complicated (and very frustrating).

The same goes for questions about why sometimes things that are very popular don't become law no matter how much of a slam dunk they seem. (For example, requiring background checks before purchasing a gun is supported by nearly 90% of Americans, but there's still not been a lot of lawmaking movement on that issue.)

In a 2013 article for the National Review (later republished by The Atlantic), authors Elahe Izadi and Clare Foran explore this issue, landing on something most of us would probably rather not have to deal with: "procedural shenanigans." That phrase, used in the article by an aide to Senator Harry Reid, sums up many of the baffling struggles that exist in the legislative process.

Let's take a look at a real-life example of "procedural shenanigans": our response to the Zika virus.

A real-life example would be something like what's currently going on with Zika funding. Hopefully, we can all agree that the Zika virus is bad (it is), and that the federal government is needed to help fight it (they should). Well, currently, $1.1 billion in funding is being held up in Congress.

Who's fault is this? Well, if you listen to Republicans, it's the Democrats' fault.

But if you ask Democrats, it's the Republicans' fault.

The truth is that this funding is being held up by things that have nothing to do with the Zika virus — they're only tangentially related to the issue. In this case, it's a battle over whether or not we should ban the Confederate flag from flying in veterans' cemeteries (Republicans are against this ban) or if Planned Parenthood should be blocked from receiving additional funding (Democrats are against this block).

Mosquitoes carry the Zika virus. Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images.

It's frustrating, but it happens all the time. Legislators will try to hold certain bills hostage to get something else they want. Or maybe they'll try to tack on an amendment designed to torpedo the bill (also known as a poison pill). This is politics as usual, but it's not right.

That's why it's important to hold lawmakers accountable. Whether this is about the bill in North Carolina, the holdup on the Zika funding, or anything else, we have leverage of our own.

Elected officials are meant to represent the views of their constituency. While we can write letters to our state, local, and federal representatives urging votes on clean pieces of legislation, that's not all. We can protest, we can make our voices heard, and we can make it known that we don't stand for a piece of legislation.

A popular hashtag for opponents of HB2 is #WeAreNotThis. Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images.

And if that doesn't work, we can vote officials out and try again with someone new. It's easy to feel helpless when it comes to politics, but as a voter, you're anything but.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

It's always a good time to register to vote. If you're not already, take a few moments today to take control of your power.

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!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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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."