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Protesters Topple Monuments Amid Calls for the Removal of Confederate Symbols

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  • Confederate and other slave-related monuments across the country—and even internationally—are being defaced and torn down by protesters.
  • In Richmond, Virginia, a judge ordered a 10-day injunction against Governor Ralph Northam after Northam announced plans to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee.
  • The Marine Corps has now banned the use of the Confederate flag, saying it has been “co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups.”

Protesters Are Toppling Confederate Monuments

Amid the massive surge of calls to end police brutality following the death of George Floyd, protesters are also renewing efforts to remove Confederate monuments and symbols.

In many cases, protesters have started taking the situations into their own hands by defacing the monuments with messages like “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace.” In other situations, protesters have skipped waiting for their local governments to remove them—a process that can take years in some areas—and toppled the statues themselves.

On June 6, a statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham in Richmond, Virginia, was pulled down by protesters. In Birmingham, Alabama, protesters tore down a similar Confederate statue on May 31.

The removal of statues invoking the idea of slavery hasn’t only occured in the United States. In Bristol, England on Sunday, protesters tied ropes around a statue of Edward Colston, a local merchant who made most of his fortune from trading slaves in the late 1600s. They then pulled that statue down before rolling it down the street and dumping it in the harbor. 

In several images, black protesters stood atop the base of the monument where that statue had been.

Some, such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, called the protesters’ move a “criminal act” and promised to prosecute the individuals involved. 

Others, like one of the protest’s organizers Katie Finnegan-Clarke, told NPR that she found the action “poetic.” She added that Colston’s statue had been “dragged across the city and essentially thrown overboard into the water,” similar to how “so many people had suffered under his regime during the slave trade.”

Back in the U.S., overnight on Monday, local news agencies in Jacksonville, Florida reported that the monument of a Confederate infantryman had been removed. According to the city’s mayor Tuesday morning, he plans to take down more statues around the city. 

In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the city removed a 176-year-old slave auction block from downtown after it was defaced. 

In Mobile, Alabama, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the city decided to take down a statue of a Confederate naval officer after it was defaced. In a tweet, Stimpson addressed a common issue many take with removing statues, saying the move “is not an attempt to rewrite history.” 

The University of Alabama began removing plaques on Monday dedicated to students who served in the Confederate army and student cadet corps. It was also later reported that the university is reviewing all building names, with the Student Government Association urging it to change “the names of campus buildings with racist namesakes.”

Judge Blocks Northam’s Order to Remove Lee Statue

Richmond, Virginia has also stepped into the center of the debate on whether or not to remove Confederate statues. Last week, Governor Ralph Northam ordered that an iconic but controversial statue of Robert E. Lee be taken down. 

According to Northam, it would then be placed in storage while a decision was made on what to do with it.

Notably, the 12-ton statue has been a major focal point of the protests in Richmond, with demonstrators crowding around it, many defacing its 40-foot-tall pedestal.

In a move not uncommon for these types of situations, a lawsuit has been mounted against Northam for trying to remove the statue. Because of that, on Monday, a judge ordered a 10-day injunction preventing Northam from removing that statue. 

There, the judge argued that Northam’s directive is a violation of an 1890 deed filed in Henrico County, which states that the commonwealth “guaranteed” to place the 12-ton statue and its 40-foot pedestal in its existing location and to “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”

Part of the uncertainty revolving around whether the state can legally remove the statue is because Richmond annexed it and the surrounding land to the state in the 1890’s. As part of the deal, the state then agreed to that deed. 

Still, according to Northam’s press secretary, Northam “remains committed to removing this divisive symbol from Virginia’s capital city, and we’re confident in his authority to do so.” 

Tuesday morning, in a tweet, Northam said, “Make no mistake: it will come down.”

Marines Ban Display of Confederate Flags

It’s not just Confederate monuments. Many are also calling for agencies and governments to disavow the use of Confederate namesakes and the Confederate Battle Flag. 

On Monday, the U.S. Army said that Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” about renaming nearly a dozen major bases.

Still, nothing has been officially confirmed. 

On Friday, the Marine Corps took a much more solid stance by banning the use of the Confederate flag—even on everyday objects like bumper stickers and mugs. 

“The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps,” the military branch said in a statement.

This order will not apply to historical paintings where the Confederate flag is depicted but not the subject. It also will not include flags which depict the symbol, such as Mississippi’s flag. 

In 2001, Mississippi held a vote on whether or not to keep that flag, but the state ultimately voted to keep it.

Because of that, Governor Tate Reeves has argued that it’s not up to elected leaders to change it. 

Still, activists argue that not only is the state’s population 38% black, currently, no one under the age of 37 in the state has ever been able to vote on whether or not to keep it.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (USA Today)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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