News of the great-grandmother’s impending release came just a week after Kardashian met with Trump to talk prison reform
This week in keeping up with Kim Kardashian’s causes: freedom for the woman whose cause she promoted.
President Trump has commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother who had already served more than 20 years in prison for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, the White House confirmed Wednesday. News of her impending release came just a week after the reality-TV mogul met with the reality-TV president to talk criminal justice reform and plead for clemency on behalf of Johnson. Kardashian reportedly also spoke with senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, whose ample portfolio includes prison reform.
“Ms. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades. Despite receiving a life sentence, Alice worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates,” the White House said in a statement. “While this Administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance.”
So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner & to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson. Her commutation is inspirational & gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 6, 2018
Kardashian is better known for her E! show, beauty and fashion ventures, and sprawling social-media empire. But her previous advocacy efforts have included supporting the L.A.-based homeless shelter Alexandria House; urging recognition of the Armenian genocide (her family is of Armenian descent); calling for stricter gun laws; and enlisting her attorneys’ help last year in the case of 30-year-old Cyntoia Brown, a sex-trafficking survivor sentenced to life for killing a man who solicited her for sex when she was a teenager.
Kardashian learned about Johnson’s case, she says, from a viral Mic.com video. “I think that he really spent the time to listen to our case that we were making for Alice,” she told the site after meeting with Trump. “He really understood, and I am very hopeful that this will turn out really positively.”
While most people lack the clout to land an Oval Office meeting on the issue of their choice, plenty have been moved to action by a heart-rending internet video. The options, though, can be overwhelming — especially if you’re a stranger to the activist world. Here’s advice on how to advocate for an issue if you’ve got scant free time, limited money to give, no idea where to start, or all of the above:
Start with a simple Google search to learn which organizations are already on the ground helping around your issue, said Mo George, executive director of the New York nonprofit Picture the Homeless. “What often happens is that those organizations that have been doing this work kind of get overlooked,” she said. Lend your voice to those groups to amplify their message, George added: “It’s very rare … (that) organizations on the ground are going to say, ‘No, we don’t want your help.’”
Get a handle on how the system works. “Every activist who wants to make a change should take some basic steps to achieve basic fluency in the process of legislative and regulatory change,” Scott Beckstead, rural affairs director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Moneyish. Read up on federal and state-level bills on Congress.gov and similar state legislature databases, he said, and familiarize yourself with your elected representatives. Get to know the legislative aide in your congressperson’s office who handles the types of issues you care about, Beckstead suggested: “For a citizen to be able to be on first-name basis with someone in their elected representative’s office can be very valuable.”
Come from a place of humility. If you don’t come from a community that’s directly impacted by your issue, said Third Wave Fund executive director Rye Young, then recognize that. Approach it from a place of “I’m just learning about this — who wants to learn about it with me?” he said, rather than “Oh my God, this is so f—ed up; anyone who doesn’t do XYZ is totally complicit.” Own that you’re embarking on a learning process, try to stay humble, and don’t try to “take on the anger of the system that’s kind of not yours,” he said.
Volunteer your time. Try a local volunteer network like New York Cares, which requires volunteers to receive a brief orientation before connecting with nonprofit-led projects, or a massive platform like VolunteerMatch. VolunteerMatch lets you find opportunities tailored to your city or preferred cause area — there are 29 to choose from, including animals, the environment and people with disabilities — both in your community and virtually. If you’re truly stumped, the site offers a personality-style quiz that tells you “what kind of volunteer” you are. “There’s so many different ways to give back through whatever a volunteer may be passionate about,” VolunteerMatch marketing manager Basil Sadiq told Moneyish.
“A lot of us run off the kindness of volunteers,” George said. “I think the volunteering allows people to get a real, on-the-ground sense of the issue, especially if it doesn’t directly impact them.”
Donate money. Decide whether you want to contribute to local or national efforts, or a combo of both. “I often tell people: If you want your donation dollars to have an immediate impact on the lives of animals that need help right now, you should donate locally to your local animal shelter or humane society. If you want to contribute to the larger social effort to improve animal welfare, then you should donate to national organizations like the Humane Society of the United States,” said Beckstead. “Of course, those are not mutually exclusive — it’s perfectly fine to donate to both.”
Young urges donating to smaller grassroots groups, which he says are often “the last to get funded” despite being “the first to show up around an issue.” “We should be funding people that are on the frontlines, always doing this work every single day,” he said. Give to organizations that can allocate your money to groups led by those impacted by the issue themselves, Young added. The Criminal Justice Initiative, for example, funds and assists grassroots organizations that include leadership by formerly incarcerated people and others affected by the justice system.
Give however much you can, said George. “People who give $5 every month — those are just as important to me as the folks who give $1,000,” she said. “No amount of money is too little.”
Go back to basics. While social media has given activists new tools, “the same process still works,” said David Safavian, deputy director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform. Calling or meeting with your local representative or their office, talking to their staffers, attending town halls, and writing op-eds or letters to the editor of your local paper are what “really turn hearts and minds on the issue,” he said.
But social-media posts to your congressperson can also be an easy way to “digitally interact with them in a way they take notice,” he added. “Say, ‘I’m worried about the environment. What are you doing to help clean the air?’” Safavian said. “A lot of times, they’ll respond. And when they respond, it can echo out.”
Attend a lobby day. Many organizations have “lobby days” during which advocates from all over the state plead their cases to lawmakers on issues that are important to them, Beckstead said. “I encourage advocates that want to learn about the political process in their state and have influence on getting those bills passed to attend their state lobby days,” he said.
Remember that there’s no wrong way to help. “(If) you cannot afford to give money, you can give your time. Or even if you can’t give up your money or your time, you can talk about it to somebody else who can,” said George. “If you’re committed and you want change, there’s no wrong way to do it.”
This article was originally published June 1, 2018, and has been updated.
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