What Has Lena Been Up To?

It has been a month since my last post. Why? Especially when my goal has been to write once a week? Well…. Many reasons have contributed to this, but the main is my insane travel schedule mixed with health issues to end with my avoidance of writing anything.

From the 28th of January until the 12th of February, I was in New York City – which, as you could tell from my posts, was amazing! Super wonderful for my future career, and I had a ton of fun with my wonderful friend Karol.

From the 12th of February to the 15th of February, I was in North Carolina. I successfully surprised my father for his birthday, which was actually super surprising since my mother is terrible at lying. More than once she nearly spoiled the surprise (example: she wrote a doctor’s appointment for me on the calendar, then realized her mistake and quickly scratched it out hoping my father hadn’t noticed).

From the 15th to the 18th of February, I was in Vancouver. I met with a potential employer, and ended up getting the job – only to have it fall through due to sketchy business practices by the company (long story, ask me in person). I also met with a group of friends in regards to another UN-related business venture but I’ll say more about that once it has become more official!

From the 18th to the 21st of February, I was visiting my best friend in Los Angeles. It was so great! We went to Disney, we used the hot tub in her backyard, we went shopping. We basically did everything best friends need to do, especially after not seeing each other for a year. And now I miss her again….

From the 22nd until the 25th of February, I was in Las Vegas. It was…an experience, that’s for sure. Day One – the classic ‘I have to take this call, OMG its an emergency, I’ve got to go’ date-ending excuse actually happened to me! But it was super funny, because it was at like 2am when I was totally okay with just going to bed and the guy had just realized he wasn’t going to get me up to his room. And now I have that story to tell! (If that was Day One, imagine what days 2 and 3 were like. It got worse each night!) Also, cool thing, we got to see Fat Joe in concert!!! For free! Hell yes for women getting into clubs free before 1am in Vegas!

After the 25th of February, I’ve been back in Vancouver. I ended up getting bed bug bites – because apparently they aren’t just a myth from my bedtime rhyme when I was a kid (“Night night; sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite!”) Once that finally stopped making me wanna die from itching so bad, I actually accidentally gave myself a black eye in my martial arts class…. I’m a bit of a clutz…

So yeah! Thats been my past month. I’ll have more free time again, which hopefully means more posts? But we’ll see!

The UN is an Amazing Organization – But It Still Has Many Problems

Three of the most striking observations made during my two weeks at two different UN conferences were: a) the amount of people at least in their 60s or 70s talking about issues which directly affect youth, while there are hardly any youth in the room for the discussion; b) the extreme resistance to change by those who claim to have been participating in the UN for years, ultimately pushing the agenda: ‘This is the way we have always done it, so this is the way we will keep doing it’; and finally, c) the amount of people who blatantly stated ‘I’ve only been here a short period of time, and I really don’t understand how the UN works – but I want to make this one point that, if I actually knew anything about the UN, I would know makes absolutely no sense.’

My friend Karol repeatedly warned me: “There are things wrong with the UN; there is a reason I returned to Mexico to work with a project that has direct involvement on the ground.” Many of my friends who have previously worked with the UN have also warned me: “The UN is not as glamorous as our experiences in Model UN make us believe.” But still in my head I wanted to think the UN would be different from my experiences in Model UN (most of which were ultimately the reason I retired from MUN). The reality, though, is that those people who are so outrageous in MUN end up in the UN. Or worse, the people involved in the UN have little to no previous knowledge of how the UN really works so they end up making the same mistakes that new MUN delegates make – only this time it actually has an effect on the international stage.

I tried to think of solutions to the three observations, and I honestly come up with a lot. Just a few:

A) A lot of Youth try to get involved in the UN through Missions from governments, without realizing there are more ways. There are Youth Forums; there are NGOs; there are IGOs; there are millions of ways to become involved, we just have to look harder to find them. Thankfully the UN is seeing many more Youth becoming involved (my theory is the exponential increase in Model UN participation since the 1990s), but it is imperative that this trend continue. Want to come to the UN? Want to be involved in international policy creation? Find a way! Because there always is one. (If anyone wants help finding possible avenues to become involved, message me and I can help!)

B) An organization that does not evolve, dies. That is a reality. The UN is even a product of the evolution of International Politics: before the League of Nations (the UN’s predecessor which failed shortly before WWII), there had never before been an organization that allowed all of the world’s governments to discuss international policies together, and especially not one that allowed the involvement of civil society. And when the UN was created, it made the necessary changes to prevent the same fate as the League. Without even addressing the fact that the internet did not exist when the UN was first created, the large role social media has taken in society over the past 15 years had created a giant gap between how the 30-year veterans wish to run the UN and how the UN must change to stay relevant to society. Pushing back and saying ‘this is how it has always been done’ is akin to signing the death warrant of the organization these people claim to love.

C) If you are going to work with the UN, you need to take the online free courses that teach you about how the UN works; and most importantly  do not speak if you are going to first state that you have no idea what you are talking about. If you do not know about a topic, you are not qualified to comment on it. This is an issue worldwide; it was something I saw in classes at UBC, and it is a mistake people continue to make all throughout their lives. And it is a mistake that we must recognize that we do and stop ourselves before we make it. True high level discourse cannot occur if those speaking lack a basic knowledge of a topic but chose to speak anyway.

As I was originally writing this, I was struggling with what to think of the UN after seeing how things actually happen. Then, a few hours later, I attended an event run by actual youth (there were no 40-80year old individuals in the organizing committee; it was actually a youth event, not just in name). And it renewed my faith in how successful the UN really can be, because it was honestly the most high-level and vibrant discussion I have seen in my 13 years of UN experience. So yes, there are a ton of problems with the UN, but the youth that will (hopefully) soon take over this organization have the genuine ability to revitalize it!

If anyone wants to see the event I’m referring to, they Live Streamed it on Facebook (yay for utilization of social media!):

What is An Nongovernmental Organization (NGO)? (AKA What Is Lena Working With This Week?)

When most people hear ‘the United Nations’ (and this applies to Model UN people too!), most will think: “A place where governments meet together and talk.” Well yes, on a basic level that is what the UN does. But it goes much deeper than that.
The United Nations is composed of 193 ‘Member States’ (nations which have ratified the United Nations Mandate and have been first recommended for membership by the Security Council, then later accepted by the General Assembly vote.) As the UN Charters says, memership “is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations.” But Member States only make up a small portion of the representation at the UN; there are two other big groups: permanent observers and civil society.

Permanent Observers: this category includes non-member states, meaning nations that have not been accepted as UN Member States but are recognized by the UN (specifically the Holy See and Palestine; there are also nations not recognized by the UN that are not given status at the UN, namely Taiwan and Kosovo); and Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), which are basically organizations that work towards specific issues by acting as a facilitator between governments and civil society  (here is a list of all the different ones).

Civil Society: this is the category that I am working with this week. It includes two groups: Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Both are given ‘observer status’ which can be revoked should a member state object to their classification with the UN (hence why they are not part of the ‘Permemant Observers’ – civil society’s status is not permanent). I would provide a list of CSOs and NGOs working with the UN, but honestly there isn’t a single list. Why? Because each branch of the UN has their own list of CSOs and NGOs which they work with (technically all NGOs/CSOs are issued UN passed through ECOSOC [because of how the UN is organized] but they work with different groups underneath the 6 main bodies of the UN, and each of these groups have different lists of CSOs/NGOs they work with.)

What exactly is an NGO then? Also known as civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are similar to lobbyists groups in the US government. Specifically at the UN: NGOs are organizations which work to advocate for their causes to be addressed on the international stage via the UN, and will work with the UN to advocate for their positions on said causes.  NGOs are non-profit organizations whose staff are largely civilian volunteers who work towards specific goals (some work on poverty, some work on stabilization in post-conflict zones, some work on education; if you can think of an issue the world is facing, there is probably an NGO which addresses the issue.) In the US alone, there is an estimated 1.5 million NGOs. (This link also has a ton of technical information on NGOs if you would like to learn more!)

How are NGOs funded? Normally NGOs are funding through private donors (individuals, foundations, or corportations) and/or grants provided by governments and IGOs. Sometimes NGOs are even be funded by other, larger NGOs. It is imperative for NGOs to fundraise because the projects an NGO will be able to do depends on how much funding the NGO receives. For example, an NGO I volunteered for a few years ago – My Ugandan Child – had a group of people (myself, Karol, and two other volunteers) draft a document of all the possible grants and funds the NGO could apply to in order for MUC to fund its pojects.  Important note – some NGOs will refuse funds from governments or corporations if they feel accepting the donation would impede their ability to remain neurtral.  For more information on how NGOs are funded and how funding sources may affect NGO’s operations, click here.

How do NGOs achieve their goals? There are actually two types of NGOs. The first works on the ground in the areas that need the most help, therefore working directly with civilians (MyWorld works with civilians on the ground in Mexico to increase education about the SDGs while also using their volunteers to complete tasks which help achieve the SDGs). The other type, though, works on the policy level (meaning they work only with the UN or with governments, without having projects that work with civilians.) Important note – it is possible for an NGO to work on both levels. MyWorld, for example, has their work on the ground in Mexico, but also attends UN conferences (like CSocD) to discuss the issues it is addressing on the ground, and works with the local and federal governments to implement policies which better help the implementation of the SDGs.

Summary: NGOs are independent lobbyists groups which work with international organizations and national governments. They can be used to advocate for their causes to be addressed on the international stage via the UN and work with the UN to advocate for their positions on said causes, or they can work on the ground in communities to address their causes through specific projects.


Final note – to be perfectly honest, when I first started writing this post I thought it would be super easy to explain NGOs. But really, NGOs are such a big beast on the international stage; they are super difficult to explain because there are so many different types and they do so many different things. So, if you think I have missed anything or if there is more information that you would like to know, tell me and I’ll fix/add it.

What is Social Development? (AKA What Does ‘Commission on Social Development’ Mean?)

So, funny story. A little over a year ago, I came to the UN with my best friend (shout out to Joy!) who is a super smart human being and was invited to the UN to take an exam for a job with the Young Professional Programme at the UN. Basically this is a programme that recruits young professionals in order for them to start a career as a civil servant at the UN. And Joy’s preferred UN department: Social Development. What I didn’t realize, though, is what Social Development means. And being the type of person that I am, I never actually bothered asking Joy what it meant. Fast forward a year and two months – I’m sitting at the UN at the 54th Session of the  UN Commission for Social Development being taught what I was too stubborn to ask about before.
Social Development sounds like it would mean fixing poverty and gender inequality and other social problems that plague the world. It doesnt. And I looked like a fool when I realized this (thank you Joy for not laughing too hard at my ignorance!)

Yes, Social Development does discuss the issues mentioned above, but it is actually the discussion of how to mobilize change on different social and government levels via NGOs and youth involvement. This mobilization is designed to address issues like poverty, gender inequality, indigenous issues, etc. As my amazing friend Karol (founder of MyWorld Mexico, and Sustainable Development expert who inviting me to CSocD) – “How do we work together through the different sectors to achieve progress on these issues, while ensuring we protect the environment and close the inequality gap.”

Turns out I’ve actually been working on Social Development for years (through MyWorld and other projects Karol and I have worked on together) and I never realized it! Whoops 😅 haha

What are the Sustainable Development Goals? (AKA What is Lena Discussing at the UN this Week?)

One of the largest topics on the international stage – and the focus of the conference I am attending this week – is the ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ (SDGs). Now, I totally expect everyone who has never been in Model UN not to understand what this means – the SDGs are rarely mentioned in national politics. But the SDGs are one of the leading driving forces for national policy. So what exactly are they?
First, a history lesson:

At the turn of the century (2000), the world banded together through the United Nations to create a series of eight goals -agreed  to be reached by 2015 – named the ‘Millennium Development Goals‘ (MDGs). The first of their kind (the world had never before set a series of goals that every nation was expected to help achieve) these goals were: ending extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowerment of women; reducing child mortality; improve maternal health; combating HIV/AIDs and other devastating diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development. And underneath each of these goals were 18 ‘targets’ and 48 ‘indicators’ that were designed to measure the progress of the implementation of the MDGs.

To be perfectly honest, by 2015 (when the goals were due to be completed), the majority of the goals had not been fully met [a fact which leads many people to say ‘Look! The UN has failed!’] But no. The UN did not fail. Because due to the MDGs, there was a mass movement worldwide to increase the quality of life worldwide. Example: While universal access to sanitation had gotten worse in the 15 years, universal access to clean water has increased to 91% of the world’s population. The United Nations actually released a report which states both their failures and successes.

So summary: No, the MDGs were not fully met. But yes, they were a success because they did make a difference. (World Vision, a NGO at the UN has a very good article on this.)

When the national governments saw the successes of the MDGs, they realized there should be something to replace them: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (aka the SDGs). These goals included the millennium development goals which had not been reached, and extended them by adding 9 more goals. The list:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all age
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Common questions:

Are the SDGs legally binding?  No. But nations implement these goals because they help increase the nation’s citizen’s quality of life. Often there are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which work to shame nations into implementing the goals if the nations are failing to do so. (What I am actually doing this week is working with an NGO which does exactly this in Mexico, ‘MyWorld Mexico’.) Ultimately these goals embody national accountability towards increasing the quality of life for their citizens.

How are the SDGs implemented? Two ways – governments passing laws that implement policies which achieve these goals, and grassroots NGO movements (aka ‘boots on the ground’: volunteers implementing the policies with fellow citizens in the communities that need it most). MyWorld Mexico is actually a network of people and NGOs which work through both of these avenues: it mobilizes volunteers in Mexico to help their fellow citizens by completing tasks (like taking clothes to the homeless) that will help achieve the SDGs; and it also polls citizens to find out which SDGs are most important to them, and lobbies the government to implement policies which achieve the most valued goals.

How were the SDGs created? The SDGs were actually created through long discussions between governments and development experts in a process that started in 2011. They were created through a multi-year consultation of all parties involved (UN officials, governments, NGOs, civilians, basically a ton of different people – including millions of votes collected by MyWorld to show what civilians believed they needed) and a 2 month drafting process. The final document was passed by 193 world leaders in September 2015, and went into effect on January 1st, 2016.

If the MDGs weren’t reached, why did we bother implementing the SDGs? Again – yes, the MDGs were not fully met. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an effect. Instead of having all the work done by the MDGs be given up when they were finished, the international community decided to create this wider set of goals to continue the amazing work the MDGs sparked. Plus, the SDGs give a clear set of goals for many of the UN organizations to work towards (like the conference I am attending).



Final note: This is a super basic description of the SDGs (and MDGs), so if anyone is interested in a more in-depth description, let me know!

How Is International Law Enforced?

Contrary to what many may believe, there is not actually a military branch to the United Nations (there is something called the ‘UN Peacekeepers’ but they are only deployed by the Security Council and are mainly responsible for helping countries stabilize after conflict or after natural disaster. And they are not allowed to use force.)  So if there is not military or judicial enforcement unit for international law, how does the international community enforce international law? Through three concepts: ‘Reciprocity’, ‘Collective Action’, and ‘Shaming’.

Reciprocity‘ is the international community’s fancy word for ‘If you won’t, I won’t.’ And it is what it sounds – the basis of International Law relies on each country maintaining their promise to each other that they will not break whatever agreement is in place. A perfect example of this is the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC): at the time the BWC was created, the world was still in the midst of the Cold War. Unfortunately this meant that the international community had yet to agree on a method through which enforcement of international treaties could be verified. The result of this was many countries agreeing to fulfill their commitments to the BWC – as long as everyone else maintained their commitments as well. This is called agreeing to the treaty ‘with reservations’ (specifically: should a country be attacked with a Biological Weapon, they would reciprocate towards the offending party with a Biological Weapon of their own.)  And this has prevented nations from using Biological Weapons – both fear of retaliation and the uncertainty of what would be used during a retaliatory attack deter nations from being the first to strike.

For a more recent example – when the Trump Regime banned Iranian citizens from entering the US, Iran reciprocated by banning US citizens from entering Iran.

 

‘Collective Action’ is also what it sounds like: several nations ban together against an offending state to punish the offending state for their breach of international law. A good example of this would be the Gulf War – when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council passed a Resolution (which is binding international law – if you would like to know why, let me know!) calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. When they did not, the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations joined together in a collation to retaliate against Iraq.

While Collective Action is one of the fundamental methods of maintaining international law, it does pose a significant issue (aptly named the ‘Collective Action Problem‘). Summary: While nations may agree to come to each other’s aid, when the time does come some nations may decide to break the original agreement of mutual protection.

 

Like the others, ‘Shaming’ is again what it sounds like. By nature, nations do not like having negative press related to their actions and will respond in order to prevent further bad press. Example: the US’s investigation into torture practices after the April 2004 CBS News report showing leaked photos and reports from Abu Ghraib prison proving torture and prisoner abuse. This method is most commonly used for violations of international law which are widely regarded as deplorable by both governments and civilians (i.e. human rights abuses, use of chemical weapons, the use of any weapons of mass destruction in general, etc.) This method is not commonly used by fellow governments, though, but rather by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch [if you would like to learn more about this incredible organization, I will happily explain more – just let me know!] In the case of the Abu Ghraib prison photos, it was in fact a news organization which spread the negative press that changed the US policy on torture (side note – torture has been outlawed since 1948 via the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the 1984 Convention against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. All of these are ratified by the United States, meaning the US must abide by them.)

 

Too long, didn’t want to read? Here is a summary – application of international law relies on three concepts (Reciprocity, Collective Action, and Shaming) in order to hold nations responsible for their commitments made in international law. Each of these are basically pressure tactics by other nations.

BUT WAIT! Is there a court which settles disputes of international law when they do happen? Yes, it is called the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and it is a principal body of the United Nations. There is also the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) which was created 1899, nearly 50 years before the ICJ. (I’ll write a post about the difference between them as well.) But even the decisions by these courts have no real enforcement techniques – they each rely on the 3 techniques discussed above.

Interesting right?

2017 Economic and Social Council Youth Forum

As the US has desended into mass protests, I sit in one of my favorite places on earth – the United Nations – and listen to hundreds of youth from around the world actively discussing one of the most pressing issues on the international stage: implementing the Sustainable Development Goals worldwide.

For those that don’t know much about the UN, here is a basic overview:

Contrary to what the new US regime believes, the UN is a forum where individuals from around the world – not just world leaders, but also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – meet to discuss topics of interest to nations around the world (not just “a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time“). Trump did get one thing right: the UN is a forum through which people are able to get together and talk, but it is not pointless. The UN is the only forum in the world – and in the history of the world – where national governments of every nation in the world (exceptions being Palestine, Taiwan, and Kosovo which are all disputed territories [if you are interested in why, let me know and I’ll happily explain!])  and civil societies (aka NGOs) are able to meet and discuss issues of importance to them.

Through the UN, the world has been able to pursue a wide variety of projects to better the quality of life worldwide. In honor of the UN’s recent 70th birthday (Octoer 24th, 2015), they released a list of 70 successes the UN has had. These include: preventing nuclear proliferation, clearing landmines, combating sexual assault in conflict zones, fighting hunger, improving global trade, acting as a global thinktank, improving literacy and education, ending apartied in South Africa, promoting the rights of disabled peoples, providing safe drinking water, helping disaster victims and refugees, eradicating diseases such as polio and small pox, etc. People can easily look at the UN and say: “Look at the world; there are conflicts all over; the UN has clearly failed.” But this is an ignorant conclusion – no, the UN has not prevented all conflicts. The world still has many issues, but those issues would be exponentially greater without the work of the UN. As previous UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld said, “It has been said that the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.

Over the next two weeks, I will be participating in the UN Economic and Social Council Youth Forum (Jan 30-31) and the UN Commission on Social Development (Feb 1-10). In honor of this, I will be creating a new series on my blog: “Getting to Know the UN,” outlining the UN,  how it works, and why it is so incredibly important to support. [Side note: if you have any topics you want me to specifically address, let me know. I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life studying the UN, and I’ll happily teach anyone anything they want about it!]


Also, fangirl moment: OMG I HAVE A UN GROUNDPASS AND IT HAS MY NAME AND PICTURE ON IT OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOGMOMGOMG THIS IS ALMOST AS GOOD AS SEEING BAN KI MOON (previous UN SecGen) SPEAK AHHHHHHHHHH 😁😁😁😁😁😁  Okay, enough fangirling, but really though. UN Groundpass. So happy.

Why the Muslim Ban Will Actually Help ISIS

Recently I was asked by a friend on Facebook why I believe the Muslim ban imposed by the new regime will actually help ISIS. And I ended up going on an insane rant. But it’s a rant because I feel really strongly about one of the key concepts behind it – the Accidental Guerilla.  So I decided to use it as a blog post.

The biggest reason the ban will support ISIS – Think about it. If a country decided ‘US citizens are no longer allowed’ would we see them as a friend or an enemy? ISIS depends on the populations in the countries it exists to join their fight, ‘radicalizing’ the people there to their version of Islam. And it’s like in the US, if you have never been to a place, you will believe whatever the media tells you. So when someone from this nation starts hearing about the ban, about the government sanctioned discrimination, about all the terrible things that are happening to Muslims in the United States, they easily will believe that the US is in fact at war with Islam (despite the fact that a significant amount of people in the nation is fighting to support the rights of the Muslims). So if you have someone who is already leaning towards joining the fight, they are more likely to join therefore making ISIS stronger.

There is also this concept of the ‘accidental guerilla’ (really amazing book about it, written by David Kilcullen, easily one of my favorites that I read all through my degree). Basically the concept says there are three types of people:
1) Always going to support radical islam
2) Never going to support radical islam
3) Could go either way

The biggest group of people are those in the 3rd category. These are people who may have leanings towards radicalization, or maybe they fear for their lives because ISIS is in their village and is killing everyone who doesn’t support them. When these people see that the US has banned Muslims, those with radical sympathies become radicalized (because of what I first explained). But then there are those who fear for their lives and the lives of their families (who would also get killed). They realize their only option is to support ISIS. They have nowhere else to go. They could risk their lives by fleeing and end up in giant refugee camps that lack the resources to support the amount of people they have (especially since the proposed cuts to funding for international organizations that support the camps – even worse, ISIS has infiltrated some of these camps and is recruiting those who end up with radical leanings because of the horrible living conditions). Maybe they end up in Europe, but again – you risk your lives significantly getting there, and there is some pretty messed up stuff happening with refugees in Europe too. An insane amount of refugees get killed on their way to Europe. Or worse, they risk fleeing, then get sent back to their original country when they are denied refugee status, and end up getting brutally massacred by ISIS as an example of why people shouldn’t flee and should just join ISIS. OR they could just give in and join ISIS, even if they really don’t agree with them, because it will keep them and their families from being massacred. (A lot of horrible shit could happen to refugees really. There are very few good options for refugees in the current political climate – which again, the lack of support, the idea that the Christian world is treating them with such disdain, can easily cause people to become radicalized.)

The reality is: the more people ISIS has access to, the larger the recruiting basis for them. By refusing to accept refugees, we leave people within their territories, meaning there are more people that are vulnerable to their recruitment tactics (honestly, the most common one is join or we will kill you. The taliban did this too, there is a really fucking disturbing book about it that I could tell you the name of if you want). And this helps their cause – the US lost Vietnam because the Vietcong had an insane amount of people. For every 2 we killed, they only killed 1. But we still lost. Just like we will with ISIS if they keep their recruitment basis. To end any insurgency, you have to take away their ability to recruit, which we should be focusing on – not banning an entire religion that makes up 23% of the world, or banning all citizens from certain Muslim countries (side note – the people who planned 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, yet Saudi was not on that list. Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, and there is evidence to suggest they were hiding him, but Pakistan wasn’t on that list. It’s actually more common for radicalized American-born people to attack the US, than for foreigners to attack. And there are no documented cases ever of refugees committing terrorist attacks on US soil. Ever.)

Something else to note – the world has always treated refugees horribly. Always. And when we look back in history books, we vilify those who pursued and supported denial of refugees. Its also a really common sign to see before the breakout of significant, large-scale wars in history.

The Continued Struggles of Lena vs. the Lion’s Mane

Over the past few days, I have written at least 5 different blog posts about politics – none of which will probably ever be published here because they are basically my endless ranting (something I prefer to keep to real conversations, not one-sided blog posts). Even beginning this completely non-political blog post, as you can see, I have an extreme desire to start ranting again. But honestly, everyone at this point needs a break from insanity, so I decided to write an update on my archnemesis – the Lion’s Mane.

I kept saying I would get a haircut. Over and over during Europe, I’d think ‘As soon as I get home, the Lion’s Mane is getting tamed!’ But, life happens, and nearly a month after getting back from Europe I still hadn’t tamed the beast. I’m super paranoid about getting a bad haircut and had spent two weeks asking friends around Vancouver who I should have cut my hair, followed by hours of research into the best hair stylist out of the options I had gotten. Until one day, while talking to my friend and debating what to do with my hair, my friend looked me in the eye and said ‘Lena, stop procrastinating, just cut the damn mane!’

I’ll let the pictures talk for themselves –

 

First, a reminder of what the Lion’s Mane looked like, even when it was confined to its braid prison:

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And then the fateful day when the Lion’s Mane would be tamed:

Its natural state wasn’t actually too bad that morning – the day before I looked like the bride of Frankenstein.

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Pretty right?? So straight and beautiful! AND TAME!!!!! But as I’ve learned, the Lion’s Mane always looks pretty after being manhandled by professions. The real test of a good taming is what the mane does after the first wash, when it is back to just me and the mane in our never ending struggle:

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Annndddd the afro returns….. Successful taming? Sort of. It’s not tangling as bad, so bright side – less headaches after brushing.

 

But I still look like Simba.

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Women’s March on Washington

Like yesterday, today was a pretty emotional day not only for myself but for many Americans. Why? Because the overwhelming amount of emotions which flooded into our hearts as we saw protesters – both American and not – around the world meet together to advocate for rights which the Trump administration has threatened to remove.

 

Originally I had intended to travel to Washington DC and stand with my fellow ‘Nasty Women’ today, but as any readers of my blog will know – life does not go as I originally plan most of the time. So instead, in a bit of a spur-of-the-moment decision, my close friend and I ended up at the Vancouver edition of the march. And let me say now – I’m 100% surprised I wasn’t balling within 5min (I nearly was; I had to fight back tears all day).

 

Why would I cry at a protest shrouded in controversy around the globe for ‘lacking inclusion’ – whether it be of pro-life individuals in the US, or of Black Lives Matter individuals in Vancouver? Because it isn’t about the organizers. It’s about the hundreds of thousands (most likely millions) of people around the globe who care so deeply about the rights my fellow Americans and I risk losing that they showed up in droves to support our Resistance. Because it proves that hatred and fear are not the rules of the day; it shows that many – not only in my nation but world wide – are standing together to support one another in our darkest of days. Because I know that if my rights are taken away, there are hundreds of thousands of people who will help in the fight to get them back – just like I will if this new administration attempts to remove rights from any black, muslim, LGBTQ+, disabled, or underprivileged people. Because humanity has not been lost, like I have been fearing since the election, but rather it has been pushed under a rug by spiteful rhetoric and now it is kicking and screaming to be set free once again. Because by every account it is clear that more people have shown up today for this display of camaraderie than they did yesterday to watch the malevolent leader be sworn in. Because no matter how terrible I feel, no matter how scared I am, I know there are people out there who will support me as I will with them.

 

To be honest, all I’ve wanted to do all day is go home and hug my loving dog, who unfortunately is only in my heart and memories anymore. And it is days like today that I remember how much that really truly sucks. But seeing the support that these marches have shown – that make it suck just a little bit less.

 

I’ll end with three of my favorite signs today:

Our security lies in our fight for the rights of all.

 

We know most of you didn’t want this!

 

And my ultimate favorite:

When he comes for the women, I am a woman.

When he comes for the Muslims, I am a Muslim.

When he comes for the Mexicans, Soy Mexicano.

When he comes for the refugees, I am a refugee.

When he comes for the environment, I am the trees and the mountains.

 

The life, thoughts, and travels of an adventurous ginger.