And yet a long fight ahead for equality

Chicago DOMA Ruling Rally

Chicago DOMA Ruling Rally (Photo credit: chicagopublicmedia)

Although parts of the Defense of Marriage Act have been ruled unconstitutional, allowing same sex couples to have access to federal benefits, affecting directly areas such as taxation and immigration, for example, this only applies for couples legally married. The issue now becomes increasing the number of states where same sex marriage is legal.

Throughout the United States, only 13 states allow same sex marriage ( California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) plus the District of Columbia. Other than that, states like New Jersey, Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois allow civil unions.

The next step should be take the fight to the 35 states that prohibit gays and lesbians marriages. Feels like a long way to go, but the rulings yesterday about DOMA and prop 8, which was invalidated and lead to legal same sex marriage in California, seems to have given another sparkle to the battle.

Like expected, conservatives expressed their biased points of view and used religion and tradition as their main argument, saying the fight wasn’t over. They too will bring their full strength to the states, trying to make sure legal marriages are still between a man and a woman.

There was massive support from artists, journalists, fashion designers and all kinds of people towards full equality. One os the hashtags used on twitter caught my attention, #loveislove, particularly because of how true, simple and concise, almost like a child’s observation. Celebrations were seen all over, but specifically in San Francisco, Brooklyn, New York City and Washington. It was just a landmark for human rights and an important step for modern families, something exciting to witness.

According to the New York Times, “President Obama released a statement saying it was ‘a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better'”.

Personally, I hope it is just a matter of time before states starting debating changes in legislation and allowing same sex marriage.

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New York stole my heart at 16! And, again, at 26.

I was 16 when I first visited New York City. I was on a small interchange – 3 months living with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Darien, Connecticut  and attending High School. Until today the city holds a special place in my heart, being the place where I first went sightseeing without any adult supervision, such a freeing experience. That’s just one of the reasons why the front page of my blog holds a picture of the High Line, the train line that became one my favorite parks in the world. I like it especially because of what it symbolizes: adaptation, transformation, social appropriation of a place that was threatened  to be demolished.

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The High Line wasn’t there when I was 16, but I visited NYC last year with my parents to search for my wedding dress. This might sound weird for some people, but buying the dress in the US, even when the wedding was scheduled to happen in Brazil, would save me something like $5.000 dollars. So, I scheduled an appointment at Kleinfeld, imagining I would have the “Say Yes To The Dress” experience. It wasn’t (and most of it was my fault – I was really stressed out with my parents dress advices, almost giving up, really), and I end up having my dress custom made in Brazil (and I bargained a lot to make it affordable).

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I think I visited the High Line the same day I had my appointment at Kleinfeld. I was really bummed, moody, angry. I felt my parents were pushing their points of view down my throat, no dress would fit me properly and, on top of that, we were having our last trip together before the wedding. My fiancee was sending me websites profiles of possible houses for us to buy in Columbus, Ohio, and I remember thinking we would never find the perfect one. A lot of emotions flying around, yet, a walk on that park was somewhat refreshing.  There were two hipsters dudes playing songs, lots of people sipping freshly squeeze lemon juice and homemade popsicles. Friends were talking and gossiping on the benches, families strolling up and down and we were just following along, appreciating the view, the artworks displayed all around and the sun in our faces. It gave an opportunity to vent out, relax and come out the on the other end of the park with a fresher, calmer mind.

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We took off walking around through the streets of NYC and, before we knew, it was dinner time. We decided to go to Balthazar, a restaurant I have heard wonders about. It was precisely what I was hopping for! We feasted ourselves with fish and duck and went back to our hotel, feeling good and tired after a busy day.

Gingers taking over e-commerce

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Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. We are all out there, seeking for some relatable content, maybe something funny that would lighten up our day. Entrepreneurial companies like Ginger Problems catch my attention particularly because of how they attend a very specific group. For those of you who don’t know, Ginger Problems is an e-commerce website that sells clothes designed for redhead people, aka ginger, or ginger lovers. It is also a Twitter character (or personality?) with more than 160.000 followers, a Facebook page with more than 5.000 likes and an Instagram profile with more than 16.000 followers. I don’t have red hair, neither does my husband, but I do know an unusual number of Brazilian gingers (be noted: non-dyed) and I’ve seen some of what they go through. It is tough being a ginger when you have to deal with tropical weather, high temperatures and lots of sun, even during winter. Phrases like this, published on Ginger Problems Facebook account, make even more sense: “I’m a ginger and this crazy. But here’s my sunscreen, I use it daily”. Funny, perky, relatable: apparently, that is all it takes to launch your own business.

Here is my interview with Trevor Denton, the creator of it all, about how the business came to life:

quirksmag: How did the business idea come up?

Trevor Denton: I’ve always been an avid twitter user and when I saw what @WhiteGrlProblem was doing I thought, well surely there has to be a GingerProblems account. There wasn’t, so I decided to make one. It took off very quickly. A few celebrities started following and then it just kept snowballing from there. I was put in the position to constantly create content and become this internet comedian. I am no professional comedian, but I will say all you need is a sense of humor to have the ability to make people laugh. So GingerProblems is my attempt at being somewhat of a comedian to the ginger population.

qm: Were you surprised by the results?

TD: I was definitely surprised at what was happening when I started the twitter account. Once I was able to gain control and really understand it’s potential (starting the clothing line and branding the company), things kind of started happening the way I wanted them to. My vision was becoming reality.

qm: How did social media helped you captivate people and customers? Is there a secret?

TD: Humor. Everybody likes to laugh. Which reminds me of my favorite quote: “I hate laughing.” – Nobody ever. Social media works if you’re social. It works if you present something your audience can relate to.You just have to know your audience. Lucky for me I can tell by their hair color.

qm:When did you start selling clothes and why?

TD: When I started GingerProblems in November 2010, I sort of gave myself an ultimatum. I had around 1K followers. I told myself, once I hit 2K, I’ll come out with a shirt. If it does well, I’ll keep this going. If it bombs, then I’ll most likely put this twitter thing to rest and move on to something else. Needless to say, the shirts were selling out and I continued. I feel very fortunate to have fell into this niche market all by just wanting to start a twitter account for fun.

qm: Would you consider your business successful?

TD: I’d say it is successful. However, I will say that it is still young and is very much so still growing. I am still young too. I’ve learned a lot by starting GingerProblems. Lots of trial and error.

qm: How many shirts do you sell monthly?

TD: Our online sales are very consistant. We sell anywhere from 200-300 shirts a month.

qm: What were your initial expectations?

TD: My initial expectations for the company were to just be consistant and keep the customer happy. I’m a big fan of companies who include free stickers or cool artwork packs with orders being sent to their customers. So with every order, we include stickers or cards with different designs or coupon codes. I feel that its important to always give more. The customer is always expecting what they ordered, but when you go the extra mile and surprise them, it goes a long way. It’s all about gaining a trusting relationship, so they know whenever they order something from GingerProblems they can expect to get more. Always.

qm: What are the difficulties of having a small business nowadays? Is there something that makes it easier?

TD: Difficulties would have to be time and money. I think that is a common challenge for any business.I wish there were more hours in a day. You just have to be patient. Social media and smartphones make everything easier. I wouldn’t have been able to do this 10, maybe even 5 years ago.

qm: Would you consider yourself an entrepreneur? Why?

TD: Yes. I think anybody who has an idea, is passionate about it, and then goes out there and does it is an entrepreneur. I feel that I’ve built something that was once such a minor and innocent idea and now has become a living, breathing entity that is part of my everyday life.

qm: Any plans for the future?

TD: For the future, I’d like to see GingerProblems offer more than clothes. I want to be able to offer actual products people use and not just wear. I’d like to see us in stores across the globe. I want to make a bigger impact to the redhead community. No one’s done us justice yet.

On time: Many thanks to my sister, who sent me the picture! She bought one of Trevor’s shirts because her boyfriend has red hair and she thought it would be a cute way to say “I love you”. Plus, I must say: when I received the package for her, I opened to make sure everything was all right and I found a sticker and some postcards in the package. They were a very nice touch.

The latest on Brazilian protests

São Paulo

São Paulo (Photo credit: Jeff Belmonte)

1) Public transportation fare in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre are not going to raise. Fernando Haddad, mayor of São Paulo, and Geraldo Alckmin, governor of São Paulo State, addressed the public together to break the news on wednesday, June 19th. But they did mention that they couldn’t count on federal funding, so they would have to relocate some investments, which could potentially affect the population in other public services, such as education or healthcare. The Passe Livre movement celebrated the decision, it was a big victory for them. The one’s that are concerned with the readjustments on the investments claim that both city and state should open their accounts and show the public where are they taking the money from to pay for the debt the decision will generate, some say they should negotiate with bus companies so they would be responsible by the onus. The main argument is that bus companies are a big mafia, they manipulate their books to get more money from the government and, at the same time, make huge campaign contributions for politicians. To sum it up, the good victory generates bigger potential problems and social participation is now, maybe more than ever, key to maintain the transparency on governmental investments. Let’s hope the media does a better job informing the people about what goes on behind the curtains.

sao paulo skyline

sao paulo skyline (Photo credit: Fernando Stankuns)

2) Since there were all kinds of people taking the streets, including those who were protesting against corruption, social movements are trying to organize themselves and figure out the next step. What should be the next claim? Are they going to march against the evangelist pastor, Marco Feliciano, who took over the Human Rights Commission of the House of Representatives (or Chamber of Deputies) and decided to start a witch hunt against gays? Or are they going to protest the proposal of PEC 37, an  addition to the Brazilian Constitution that would take away from Public Ministery the prerogative to investigate criminal activities, leaving this task for Federal and Civil Police? Some people argue that this would make corruption investigations even harder, but I have to say I have no opinion on the matter since I haven’t read much about it yet.

3) Protests yesterday were nothing like the ones we saw before. Supposedly a celebration of the back down on bus fare raise, it became a violent ideological fight. It is true that PT, the workers party (party of former president Lula and president Dilma Roussef) scheduled their own protest on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo to happen yesterday, same day that Passe Livre movement was celebrating their political victory, with the naive perception they would show people they were by their side. That was taken as a provocation by some of the conservatives, especially because in the last protests they were emphasizing the non-partidarism and, since corruption was one of the issues on the table, it would be odd sharing the streets with the party responsible for the latest big scandal in Brazilian politics, what we call the mensalão. Basically, a scheme for the government to buy deputies and senators votes so they would support the president (Lula, at the time) and his party, the PT. Conservatives attacked the liberals, the participants of social movements and other left wing representatives, arguing they had no place in the streets. Many were hurt, flags were burned. Journalists on main stream media were still celebrating the change on Brazilian politics, portraying the movement as an important step on our democracy, while the left started to complain the conservatives attack was actually an assault on democracy and a stir in the course of events they would not support.

Let’s wait for what comes up next, because the way it is going nothing is clear yet. While conservatives still fight corruption and keep asking for Dilma’s impeachment, latest polls show she would be reelected next year, when president elections take place, with 53% of votes. Now that the bus fare fight is won in some of Brazil’s biggest cities, the joy of seeing people on the streets might be shadowed by the worries of the consequences of government decisions. It will be interesting to see what other causes will be discussed and protested for. The dissatisfaction that consumed the protesters is still there, and their big causes (like, corruption) are still there, but if the people don’t start organizing an agenda, making real propositions, talking about real actions (and not just yell “end corruption now”), it will be hard to see the benefits of it all.

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An analysis of the Brazilian protests

I feel compelled to write about the Brazilian protests today, something that I was restraining myself to comment on the last few days mainly because I was astonished by the proportions the protests had taken and oddly surprised by the heterogeneous crowds that has taken the streets, and at the same time I was here in the US, a mere observer.

It all began with the a protest called by the popular movement Passe Livre in São Paulo, concerned with the bus fare raise on R$ 0,20 or $0,09 cents of dollar, and the imminent possibility that trains and subways fares might be raised too. Some articles argued that poor people would have to struggle to make ends meet, and probably would end up skipping meals in order to be able to go to work. What some people don’t understand is: São Paulo is a big, crowded, unplanned city with serious traffic issues. It can take hours to drive 6 miles during peak times, even more time if you are on a bus. One day a week, depending on which is the last number on your license plate, your car is not allowed on the streets from 7am to 10am and  5pm to 8pm, and that still doesn’t help much.

The movement was trying to problematize the raise of the fare considering, also, the quality of the service provided. Public transportation in São Paulo is one of the most expensive in the world and yet the population sees nothing but crowded, uncomfortable, slow, and almost inefficient buses, trains and subways. In  2010, 37 million people didn’t had access to public transportation because they couldn’t afford it, according to the movement this figures would only go higher.

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What happened after the first, second and third protests were, to say the very least, unexpected. Police brutality against the protesters, the population, photographers and journalists, even the one’s covering the event, started to change the public reaction. While mainstream media was talking about protesters as bums, vandals and criminals, public opinion began to shift. Photos, videos, comments shared on facebook brought new light into the discussion, people started debating online what was happening in the protests. When mainstream journalists were arrested for carrying vinegar on their backpacks, something they would use to diminish effects of the gas bombs police was throwing on the protesters, and even shot with rubber bullets, my timeline filled with more and more videos. Now, mainstream media was shifting too, aligning themselves with protesters.

The first and second protests were brutal, but the third one started everything. After June 11th, every person I know, not only the journalists, were talking about bus fare, protests and police violence. Everybody expressed a deep dissatisfaction towards the government and how it handled the protests, and the catch phrase “it is not about 20 cents” started to spread. It involved civil rights, a bigger cause, and its relation to people’s mobility all over the city. I started to read about other cities and what they were also doing. Some of sort of organization came arose from social networks, and we could see it online, live. Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Fortaleza, and many others places were having protests too. Hackers started to get into governmental websites and spread the word on the protests.

In São Paulo, people started saying they would show up at the next protest, on a thursday, and even more people took the streets yesterday night. Even conservatives were calling people to participate, because “it is not about 20 cents”, it was about corruption, all the resources invested in the World Cup that we would never get back, the stadiums that we built and we would never use again after 2014, the politicians salaries and its discrepancy in relation to a normal citizen’s paycheck. It became a protest about education, health, public transportation and more.

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The fairest account I’ve seen said 250 thousand gathered all over the city, although some biased newspapers said it were only 60 thousand and the police claims it were 30 . I saw beautiful pictures and displays of communion, kindness and strength. I saw signs of hope, flashes of dreams and utopias. It was bigger, louder and more colorful than anything I have ever seen or imagined to see in Brazil. And, I must say, I saw it online, from the US. I tried to accompany the march and keep up with everything that was happening in every city of Brazil, but it was an insane task. I saw Rio’s congregation of 100 thousand ending in much more violence than the protests in São Paulo. It was historic, and you could see how excited people were online. It was so new, such a strong statement: the giant awakens.

Yesterday night, after coming home, a few protesters started to express their deep concern with what could happen. A pandora box appeared to be opened, and different sectors were using the protest to discuss their own agendas. A petition for the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, Brazilian president, started to appear on my timeline, something that wasn’t even part of the original cause. People that marched on the protest organized by the Passe Livre was now claiming the movement didn’t represent them, especially after some of its representatives were interviewed in public tv saying that they were fighting for 20 cents, but their main cause was always free public transportation, a decent service provided by the government. The lack of organization was palpable. Dissonant voices appeared everywhere, and politicly active journalists are now concerned with how the conservative majority will spin it around to yet another regression.

Now that we have learned we can take the streets and make ourselves be heard, let’s use our voices for the right causes. It is time to be coherent and protest for the causes you believe in, being aware which flags are walking with you and which organizations are organizing the protest you choose to be in. Don’t give politicians, newspapers and media stations the opportunity to dismantle or discredit a fight for a good cause such as the bus fare and public transportation just because we need to fight for other things as well. Social transformation won’t come in a day, after one pacific protest. Many more protests will come, hopefully.

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American women advance since the 1950’s

The Daily Beast recently published a list with the best websites and twitter profiles, something they called the Beast Best Awards. Browsing throw some of the websites, one of them caught my attention: Makers. It is a website filled with videos, stories, interviews with what they classify as “women who made America”. Former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, war journalist Christiane Amanpour, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, writer and director Nora Ephron and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer are just some examples of high profile women featured in the website.

As executive producer Dylan McGee describes on the making of, she and her partner Peter Kunhardt decided they wanted to make a documentary about Gloria Steinem, journalist and co-founder of Ms Magazine and activist for the feminist movement. Steinem denied interest on a documentary about herself, but  implied the movie would have to show “the bigger picture”.The producers researched and, surprisingly, couldn’t find any  definitive documentary on women’s advance in America over the last 60 years.

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Womens Liberation Movement poster

McGee states that the website was a consequence of the scope of the project: so many interviews would have to be made and edited that this multiple narratives should be put together as a “living library”, in a digital first concept.

Click here to watch the documentary.

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Talk to me, “Before Midnight”.

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Richard Linklater’s sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset bring us back to the love saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), nine years after our last encounter with the characters. The questions, the anxieties, the doubts any fan had about what happened to the couple in and after Paris are finally revealed, surprisingly not leaving room for criticism.

On the first one, Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse meet on a train and they spend one day in Vienna getting to know each other before they part, at sunrise, promising to meet again in a determined place, date and time. They never exchange phone numbers, emails, so their only hope and chance of meeting again is to be there at the scheduled date. They are in their early twenties, still trying to figure out who they are.

Before Sunset shows us the characters getting together in Paris after nine years, during Jesse’s book launch party. Celine reads a summary of his book only to discover he wrote about them and she decides to go after him. We also learn that Jesse was stood up at the fatidic reencounter and he is now married, father of a boy. After a day together, talking about the past and what happened with their dreams, Jesse looses his plane to stay with Celine. As the time passes, the characters mature and new problems and dilemmas come to surface in their dialogues, which is where the strength of the movies relies.

In Before Midnight, they are still together, they have twins, but Jesse struggles to say goodbye to his american soon after spending a summer vacation together in Greece. Jesse implies that he would consider moving to Chicago to stay closer to his son, a revelation that is not taken very well by Celine. The drama takes another dimension as it moves from their individual problems, portrayed on the earlier movies, to their complex issues as a couple.

It was a particularly good experience to me because my husband happened to be away, backpacking. I am sure he would complain the movie is “all about their conversation”, “there is no action”, “too dramatic”, “too intellectual, too brainy”, stuff like this. As a woman, not necessarily a passionate feminist as Celine, there is no way you won’t relate with some of the characters dilemmas. Just to name one: the constant struggle to have a career and take care of your family, while trying to share some of the responsibilities and duties with your husband or partner.

The recognition of their problems presents the couple with two options: stay or leave. I guess when you put things in perspective, differently than what most fairy tales teach us, sometimes, love is not enough. Love is not a proof of happiness, it doesn’t ensures anything, except, maybe, that somebody cares about you. I say maybe because some people have a disturbingly weird way of showing love, and, let’s face it, in those circumstances you might be better off alone. My point is: if love is not enough to make us happy, is it enough to keep people together? The movie offers a wonderful insight into a couples life and a realistic answer to that question, something a little difficult in movies nowadays.