The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate has recently opened in Boston to help current and future generations learn about the US government and foster participatory democracy. Funded in part by the federal government, the institute has a full-scale replica of the Senate chamber where visitors can serve as senators-in-training, participating in two-hour expertly guided simulations that include swearing-in, hearings, legislative negotiations, debate, and voting. The institute also includes a museum on Senator Kennedy’s life. Officials hope that the institute will encourage participants to understand the legislative process better and give younger citizens in particular a greater appreciation of tolerating and negotiating with opposing viewpoints.
In an unusual move, Detroit is turning to crowdfunding to support the fight to bring justice to the victims of sexual assault. Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) is a collaboration between Detroit’s Wayne County prosecutor and other top leaders in the city to advocate for money to rapidly test the backlogs of rape kits (of which over 11,000 were found in a storage unit in 2009) and help fund the prosecution of thousands of rape cases by hiring additional investigators and lawyers. The goal is to raise $10 million for the cause. Detroit is also working on a program that will track rape kits the same way that packages are tracked, following them from the hospital to the lab to the courtroom. Enough SAID raised almost $900,000 in its first month and is now at over $4.5 million.
New York City wants to redouble its efforts to create a pathway of career success for thousands of local women who come from underserved communities. The Women Entrepreneurs NYC initiative will offer free training and business services to 5,000 budding female entrepreneurs in the next three years. These services will include loan negotiation workshops, connections to capital, pro-bono legal assistance, and assistance in navigating government resources. The city’s Department of Small Business and private funders are helping to underwrite the program, and officials hope it will become a model for other initiatives across the country.
To help reunite dog owners with their lost pets, Miami-Dade Animal Services has partnered with Finding Rover, a mobile app that uses facial recognition technology. Under the collaboration, Animal Services will upload their database of dogs into the app. Likewise, users can report a lost animal through the app by uploading a photo, which then searches the database of the current inventory of dogs for a match. Good Samaritans who find lost dogs can also snap a picture of the canine and upload it to the site. Animal Services hopes the app will help decrease the number of animals in their confines.
Inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California have been involved in the unusual activity of producing radio programs that provide an inside look into prison life for Bay Area listeners on the “outside.” Along with a partner newspaper, the San Quentin News, the prisoner-run media enterprise has received national recognition. Aside from reporting on the nuances on prison life, from the correct way to do a handshake to living as an HIV-positive person in captivity, the newspaper and radio program are also enriched by news and information gathered and sent by volunteer students and organizations. Some observers question the use of resources to help murderers and violent criminals produce and circulate their stories to audiences beyond prison walls, but supporters assert that inmates’ efforts can assist in their rehabilitation by keeping their minds engaged.
Los Angeles is now allowing its residents to plant fruits and vegetables on median strips of vacant city-owned land between sidewalks and streets. Previously, “guerilla” gardeners needed to obtain a $400 permit to grow the produce or risk a raft of citations. Now, motivated residents can beautify their neighborhoods, as well as gain access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable food, which is not always available in “food desert” areas. The city is still working on revising guidelines regarding acceptable garden characteristics such as how high the plants may grow and how close the plants may grow to the accessible areas of the street or sidewalk.