In 2017, advocacy and civic engagement are playing an increasingly prominent role in Americans' lives. After the election of Donald Trump as president, many Americans have increased their involvement in public policy advocacy — some have even decided to run for office. If you are interested in becoming more involved as an advocate this year, but are unsure of which issue(s) you would like to tackle, the following constitutes a list of important issues we need advocates for in 2017.
The list below includes both concerns that have become increasingly urgent to address as a result of the Trump administration's decisions, as well as those that have been longstanding issues in American politics and public policy. However, do keep in mind that this list not comprehensive — there are many additional issues that require the urgent attention of advocates beyond the ones delineated below.
Political advocacy is exceedingly powerful, and can have a myriad of positive effects. It can result in the withdrawal of harmful legislation or the creation of new and important rights protections. It can also inspire others to become more involved in civic life and help steer progress in the country. So without further ado, here are 17 issues which the United States needs advocates for in 2017.
1. Equal Pay
As Equal Pay Day recently demonstrated, women and minorities in the United States do not receive equal pay for equal work. Evidence shows that in the U.S., women make approximately 79 cents for every dollar a white man makes. For minority men and women, there is an even greater disparity between their income and that of a white man's in an equivalent field. Gender and minority pay gaps are very real (despite some critics trying to debunk them as myths), and it will require concentrated activism to ensure that these gaps are eliminated quickly — and not in not in 136 years, as Bloomberg predicts.
2. Ending Mandatory Minimums
Mandatory minimums are mandatory prison sentences that are required by law, meaning that judges must follow them when sentencing offenders, as opposed to developing their own sentences based on the facts of a case. Mandatory minimums are utilized for various crimes, but many involve drug offenses. While mandatory minimums were designed to provide consistency in sentencing, they often have unjust side effects due to the "three strikes" law, wherein people who commit a felony coupled with two other convictions are required to be sentenced to a significant number of years in prison — often for life.
Three strikes laws have resulted in patently unfair sentencing for some individuals. For example, in 2013, Curtis Wilkerson of California was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for stealing a pair of socks worth $2.50, since he had two criminal convictions from nearly 30 years prior. In 1995, Leandro Andrade was sentenced to life in prison for stealing $150 worth of children's VHS tapes from Kmart after having two old convictions on his record. Andrade's case was upheld by the Supreme Court, and he remains in prison.
While some lawmakers have begun to push for mandatory minimums reform, advocates are needed to help ensure that these efforts make progress.
3. The Continuation Of DACA and Protections For Childhood Arrivals
While the Trump administration has not yet dismantled former President Obama's executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), there is a chance it could be revoked, particularly given Trump's strong anti-immigration stance. DACA provides legal protections for undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children, including the right to work and protection from deportation.
Currently, over 750,000 people receive DACA protections, which they must renew every two years. DACA faces a very real threat from the Trump administration, as his legal team has already found ways to dismantle protections for DACA recipients while still technically keeping the executive order intact.
4. Freedom Of The Press
In the age of Trump, press freedom has been sadly threatened in unprecedented ways. David Remnick of The New Yorker told the Huffington Post, “The fight for press freedom is also quite close to home. It’s right here... The advocates for limiting that freedom have made their feelings very well known. And we have all heard the anti-media rhetoric, the attacks on journalists, the exclusion of reporters viewed as unfriendly during the presidential campaign.”
Trump's presidency has seemingly put press freedoms, previously thought of as untouchable, in jeopardy. This issue urgently needs advocates as it is fundamental to the functioning of the U.S. as a democracy.
5. Ending Domestic Violence
The recent San Bernardino school shooting, in which a man murdered his wife at the school where she was a teacher, as well as one of her students, served as a stark reminder of the sadly pervasive issue of domestic violence in the United States.
According to the Huffington Post, almost five million women experience intimate partner violence in the U.S. every year, and an average of three women per day are murdered by their partner. Ending domestic violence requires activists to help advocate support for victims, as well as to campaign for domestic violence law reform, like closing legal loopholes and increasing sentences for offenders.
6. Ending The Use Of Private Prisons
While the Obama administration released a directive that it planned to phase out federal use of private prisons, Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded this memo, saying private prisons may be necessary to "meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."
Private prisons have a well-documented history of mistreating prisoners due to their lack of accountability and focus on profit. For example, a series in The Nation found that dozens of preventable inmate deaths resulted from subpar care at private prisons across the country. The documented problems with private prisons, coupled with the rescinding of Obama's memo phasing out their use, means that advocating against private prisons in the U.S. is more imperative than ever.
7. Passage Of The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Shockingly, in the United States in 2017, there are still no constitutional protections for women's rights. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment does not provide the same levels of protection for women as it does for other groups. According to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women's equality in the U.S. has been established through legislation, but she added, "legislation can be repealed. It can be altered." Ginsburg and many others believe the ERA needs to be passed so that women's rights will be protected under the Constitution.
Passage of the ERA could indeed be a possibility this year, as Nevada's state assembly approved the ERA last month, and the amendment likely only requires the approval of two more state legislatures for ratification.
8. Immigrant And Refugee Advocacy
Following President Donald Trump's repeated attempts to enact executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the United States, advocating for the rights of those seeking to enter the country is needed more than ever before.
When Trump's first executive order was signed back in January, Americans engaged in spontaneous activism, rushing to airports to defend the rights of immigrants and refugees entering the United States. It is absolutely crucial that this impassioned advocacy continues, as Trump continues to push for the implementation of his executive order and as officials crack down hard on undocumented immigrants.
9. Ending Civil Forfeiture Laws
Civil forfeiture is a process in the United States that enables law enforcement officials to seize cash and property from Americans without officially charging them with a crime. This occurs through a loophole in the law that says property can be "guilty" of a crime, even if its owners are not. Civil forfeiture also typically allows the "seizers" of property — usually police departments — to directly profit from the sale of that property, thus incentivizing them to seize more property.
Thousands of Americans who committed no crimes have had millions of dollars' worth of property, including homes, cash, and cars, taken from them in this way. Ending civil forfeiture laws is particularly important today, especially considering Attorney General Sessions' indication that he sees no problems with civil asset forfeiture.
10. Ensuring Abortion Access
Unfortunately, even though abortion is legal in the United States, women's access to abortion clinics is often limited. State legislators frequently try to restrict abortion clinic access in their push for anti-choice policies, in spite of Roe v. Wade. They do so by placing stringent requirements (like requiring admitting privileges at hospitals) on abortion providers that few can meet, often leaving women seeking abortions with few options in their state. These stringent requirements are known as "TRAP" laws.
This issue needs advocates to fight legislation seeking to impose unfair requirements on abortion clinics and to fight for geographically accessible and financially affordable abortion clinics for women in all 50 states.
11. Voting Rights
In recent years, protections against voter suppression have been vastly diminished in the United States. According to the New York Times, a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 ended the Voting Rights Act requirement that "states with a long history of racial discrimination need to approve any proposed changes to their voting procedures with the federal government." The Times reported that as a result, 14 states had voting restrictions in 2016, "including strict voter ID laws, fewer opportunities for early voting and reductions in the number of polling places." These new laws also tended to disproportionately affect minorities.
With the recent appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, other requirements of the Voting Rights Act could be further diminished, potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters across the country by making it more difficult for them to vote in U.S. elections. With midterm elections coming up in the not-too-distant future, ensuring that all voters are protected and able to exercise their constitutional right is more vital than ever.
12. Government Transparency
Trump's recent announcement that he will no longer allow public access to the White House visitor logs serves as an important reminder that it is exceedingly urgent to advocate for government transparency, particularly under this administration.
According to the ACLU, Trump's administration has not been transparent on a host of issues, including addressing his alleged ties with Russia and releasing his tax returns, among others. Holding the Trump administration accountable to the public is crucial in order to ensure that it is justly representing the American public's best interests.
13. Student Loan Protections
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently eliminated several federal student loan protections that were created under the Obama administration. These protections included ones that helped borrowers "manage or discharge their debt," according to Forbes. They also mandated that servicers who were managing student loans on behalf of the federal government adhere to a set of standards regarding their provision of proper repayment information to borrowers and their responsiveness when borrowers contact them.
The rollback of these provisions goes against the interests of the millions of Americans who currently have loans from the federal government. Advocates are certainly needed to demand that these protections are put back in place as well as to ensure that more borrower protections are not eliminated in the future.
14. Ending Police Violence
Earlier this month, Attorney General Sessions revealed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to roll back Obama-era police reforms that were designed to protect individuals, particularly minorities, from overly aggressive policing. These reforms were based on a a 163-page report from the DOJ that "laid out extensive evidence of unconstitutional policing practices including unlawful stops, searches, and arrests; racial disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests; and use of excessive force."
Police brutality, especially against minorities, continues to be a pervasive problem in the U.S. With the rollback of DOJ reforms designed to help diminish police violence, the need for advocates to combat this issue is more urgent than ever.
15. Affordable Housing
Trump's proposed budget unfortunately involves massive cuts to low-income housing in the United States, as it seeks to impose a $6 billion decrease in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
According to the Hill, more than 75 percent of HUD's budget goes to helping low-income Americans pay their rent and, during the current fiscal year, HUD provides rental assistance to over 4.5 million families. If implemented, Trump's budget could be tragic for those who receive rental assistance through HUD. Thus, it is important for advocates to help ensure that Trump's proposed budget is not passed in its current form and that HUD maintains, or even increases its current level of funding for housing assistance.
16. Net Neutrality
Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers must treat all websites and content equally, regardless of the source. Net neutrality prohibits service providers from "playing favorites" with websites, such as through speeding up some sites and slowing down others, or blocking certain websites altogether. Net neutrality essentially creates a "free and open" internet, allowing a personal blog to be accessed just as easily as the website of a major international company.
While net neutrality perpetuates "internet freedom," there are signs that current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai may soon be rolling back federal measures that require internet service providers to preserve net neutrality, which could mean Americans no longer have equal access to all content on the internet.
Ending net neutrality could be vastly detrimental; according to The Daily Beast, eliminating net neutrality protections could mean that an internet service provider "could decide to charge different rates for different kinds of data access, or provide faster or slower internet connections to their preferred sites." Thus, advocates are needed to ensure that Americans continue to have free and open access to the world wide web.
17. Preserving The Affordable Care Act
While Trump has indicated that Republicans do not plan to introduce new legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after the failure of the American Health Care Act, Obamacare remains a contentious issue for many members of the GOP and new legislation seeking to repeal it is not outside the realm of possibility. Advocates need to monitor Republican movements (or lack thereof) on healthcare, as well as continue to remind legislators of the importance of preserving the ACA and some of its best features, including requiring insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, and mandating minimum essential benefits that health insurance plans must cover. Furthermore, advocates are needed to help find ways to improve some of the less desirable aspects of Obamacare — like high deductibles — while avoiding a total repeal and replacement of the legislation.
Overall, these are just some of the many issues that require sustained interest and advocacy to push for reforms and ensure that people's rights are protected. The U.S. certainly needs as many impassioned and well-intentioned advocates as possible; hopefully this list will serve as a launching-point for those looking to get involved this year.