While the entire country of Ukraine feels the everyday pressure of war with Russian Aerial bombardment terrorizing civilians and the rising prices of goods and services, hardworking Ukrainian citizens have not let the war stop them from using their talents in a collective effort to raise funds for important causes and getting those funds to the people who desperately need them.
Ukrainians like Evgeniy Komarov have managed to do just that by working through the night to raise money and awareness for Blagomay, which then gives their donations to abandoned children in orphanages. An event was held on Aug. 12 for this purpose at the Green Bar, a restaurant located at Khoryva St, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Evgeniy, a business law professional by day and cocktail bartender by night, has been working toward this goal since 2011.
He works a guest shift for the event, meets with a marketing team to create a flyer, and then promotes it to his and the establishment’s patrons. Sometimes, he makes a set drink list; other times, it will be a percentage taken from the entire night of all cocktails sold. In this case, it was both, and when a customer purchases a drink at the event, the sales percentage is subtracted from the overall profits from the night and given directly to the Blagomay Fund.
I asked Evgeniy why he does this, and he replied, “First, you try charity, and then you know that you can never stop. It is a life position, a state of your soul. When you see the results, you understand that you can change something and help someone; it motivates you to do more and more.
As a lawyer, once a week, I become a bartender. For my friends, clients, and owners of the bars, it’s entertainment to see a lawyer shaking, dancing, and serving drinks. It’s a chance to meet with my friends and other people at the bar. Give them my tasty cocktails, talk with them, and have some fun. For the children of the orphanage who receive the generated funds, it’s essential and can be life-changing.”
Blagomay provides many resources for children, including educational, medical, facility reconstruction, and emergency programs. We are inspired to work to provide a new standard of living and opportunities for children deprived of parental care, children in difficult life circumstances, displaced children, children of fallen heroes, and all children affected by the war in Ukraine. The foundation’s programs include educational, medical, emergency, critical needs, shelter, and rehabilitation programs,” according to the Blagomay website.
Blagomay Fund is a Ukrainian charity that has improved children’s childhoods in over 100 orphanages in Ukraine for 11 years. The fund is dedicated to providing a better future for orphaned children who could have been abandoned or lost their families, some directly resulting from war and genocide in Ukraine. “This includes needed supplies and education so these children can still have the opportunities to become professionals in their different spheres of interest,” said Evgeniy.
One specific cocktail of the night was named after “Black Lives Matter” because Evgeniy felt strongly about the racial injustice many African Americans face daily. The cocktail was made to suit the guest’s taste for sour or sweet and included M&M’s. The night also featured a record-spinning guest DJ who played popular classic tracks like “Ridin” from Chamillionaire.
Profits on this night given to the fund were 3000 UAH (Ukrainian Hryvnia), which equals $81.29 in the U.S.; in total, from the previous event bar sales and this night equaled 6875 UAH from the sales of cocktails, which is about $186.15 US. While this is not a large amount of money in the U.S., it is a good profit in Ukraine for kids in orphanages, and every little bit counts.
Jokes for feelings had humble beginnings in 2006 but soon became a synergized magnet. Led by Band Frontman, Lead Guitarist, and Vocalist Josh Raphael from Palm Springs, California, the Bay Area ska band has been 17 years in the making with roots in Southern California pop-punk. Satirical, upbeat, transformative, and vibey good times music embodies the saying, “If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade.” With albums like “We Don’t Need Your Label Anyways” and “Kill Your Ego Split” speak to overcoming a musician’s everyday misfortunes, relationships, and economic struggles with a smile.
“We just write about what’s going on in our lives, we do add a lot of comedy and make some jokes, but it’s also a reflection of how we felt about getting older, not fitting in, or in my case, being sick. There was a time when I got very sick, lasting years. I couldn’t play music, run, or do any activities. I had to get treatment, so I wrote uplifting songs that I felt would make me happy. In the beginning, we would make fun of things happening in the scene, the bands deemed as cool took themselves so seriously, and we were nobodies, so we decided to be funny and honest and start our own scene,” said Josh Raphael.
After posting a Craigslist ad, Drummer Antonio Acosta, aka Tony Two-Tone, joined the band’s ranks, a former Chabot College Student and San Francisco Art Academy graduate from San Leandro, California. Growing up in the 1980s breakdance era, the man is a fan of spinning vinyl, Latin ska, reggae, pop, funk, and Latin jazz. He would go on to support elevating the band to new heights and many other bands in the ska scene down the road, which many still hold in very high regard.
Jokes For Feelings has had a myriad of members collaborate with the group over the years. Experimenting with members, sometimes a musician could play with the band for only a month or stay for years. Their first live show in 2006 at Blake’s in Berkeley was primarily packed with Coast Guard. One of the original members, Josh Vanskike, who played in the band for the first couple of years, wrote a good number of songs before leaving, was enlisted, and brought the majority of his unit from Alameda to the show. “Unfortunately, he shipped out a lot sometimes for up to a year, and eventually, he just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Josh Raphael. While other early years members like Misty and Sean are just names in the backdrop of what has become, at times, a local all-star lineup of guest musicians over the years.
In 2009 Bassist, Keyboardist and Violinist Billy Raphael joined the band just as they were touring Southern California. The regular tour route then was LA, Riverside, San Diego, and Palm Springs. Billy Raphael, also a Bay Area transplant from Palm Springs, brought not only his previous band experience and history but previously written unproduced tracks, which Jokes For Feelings released with the addition of a music video, “Vitamin Girl.” Written by Billy, the song is about a routine nightlife experience he would have, “I used to go clubbing a lot in San Diego, and I would hear techno groups playing until four in the morning, and I wanted to write a song about that,” said Billy.
Billy’s arrival coincided with the band’s transition from pop-punk to ska which Tony largely influenced, “It was fairly easy to transition over because we played in ska bands growing up. Ska is more mellow to play, and pop-punk is a little harder, in my opinion, because you have to play it fast and clear, compared to just jamming and having some fun when you play ska,” said Josh Raphael. Ska originating from Jamaica and Afro-Caribbean music is the forerunner to reggae with youthful punk rock vibes, horn sections, and saxophones.
The band expanded, taking on three new horn players, and became entwined as a support pillar within the local Bay Area ska scene, standing behind causes, playing charity events, and finding a home at the famous 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley founded by Tim Yohannan who is also the founder of punk rock magazine “Maximum Rocknroll and Music Enthusiast.” The schedule became playing “Pride Runs” in San Francisco, events supporting unity, medical fundraisers, and Gilman benefits. The band began to ignite the Latin ska scene, even performing their songs in Spanish. Simultaneously, members like Josh Raphael took lessons in Peruvian jazz and folk, infusing what he learned into the band to produce a new sound with a Latin jazz influence and even a little gypsy punk combined with ska punk.
There are strong values and principles among some bands playing in the Bay Area who believe in freedom, human rights, anti-discrimination, and anti-racism, just to name a few. With venues that wholeheartedly support these values so much that you can’t even perform there if you don’t uphold these views, this is a requirement within the Gilman community. A volunteer collective with solid connections in Bay Area social justice movements, you will not be playing any music on the Gilman stage if you disregard these core principles.
Tony Two-Tone added a new element to the band, and that’s booking in what was to become “Gilman Ska Night.” This night grew in popularity until LA was a regular departure point for bands heading to the Gilman, reaching across the United States and beyond. Pulling bands from Oregon to Mexico, all looking to participate in the ska nights. At this time, Tony worked with pioneers in the local scene like Jeff Armstrong, who has long roots at the Gilman in the punk and ska scene, and brother to Tim Armstrong of the famous punk band “Rancid,” along with band members with explosive energy and controversial performances like Mike Avilez of “Oppressed Logic.”
The Gilman has always been a destination for all ages, especially the youth, which has led famous names like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day to donate to the venue. “When I first started, there weren’t as many bookers or a lot of help, and it was a struggle. That’s why we built up shows and brought a lot of new people, but, unfortunately, the kids around at that time weren’t inclined to help, and there were a lot of problems,” said Tony.
Between Jeff, Tony, and Josh, the first “Gilman Ska compilation” was released, giving away up to five hundred free CDs, with Vol. 2 soon-to-follow spotlighting bands like “Sarcasm,” ”Day Labor,” and “Shark Punch.” The collaboration runs deep with Jokes For Feelings, as many musicians have played in the band. Some of these players were former Chabot Students like Angela Perez, who played horns and did backup vocals. Micheal Booker, another Chabot student, played saxophone and did backup vocals. The team-ups and support for other local ska bands, like “The Skunkadelics,” was well-known and thoroughly enjoyed by many, with members like former Chabot student Sean Funcheon, James Shane, David Marroquin Jr., and Jon Gonzales. Tony Two-Tone was even known to hand out free CDs at the Chabot campus to students.
The most recent album for Jokes For Feelings was released in 2018, and since then, the crew has gotten busy with life. Tony has since left booking, but musicians and fans will remember Gilman Ska Nights for years to come. He is now a new father, increasingly busy, and joined by Josh and Billy, who are also fathers. They have since reunited for regularly scheduled practice sessions, which brings with it a level of excitement to return to just making good and fun music that people can enjoy.
The disastrous effects of climate change are no longer up for debate as changes are felt increasingly every day. Eroding shorelines, record-level heat waves, and the following droughts are just some of the very real changes we are experiencing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Despite pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide and methane surged in 2020. Levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020.”
Since then, businesses have returned to normal routines along with employment schedules, which is an increase in human activity from this estimate taken during a time when everything around us slowed to a standstill. Yet climate change continues to become a more significant threat with no reversal. This has led scientists, politicians, and community members worldwide to hold summits, events, and meetings to bring people together in the hope of finding a solution together. This is precisely what Chabot College Climate Action Coordinator Katie Dickinson has set out to do with her call to action environmental community event, which was held in the Chabot event center Friday on, April 28.
“There were 120 people who signed up, and we invited a triad of people, schools, community colleges, and universities. Nonprofits who are working diligently in the trenches on these environmental injustices, cities and municipalities who actually have the capacity to make laws and ordinances that affect communities. So we invited those three main entities to get together in a room.”
Throughout the day, there were appearances from organizations and public officials like the Pachamama Alliance, San Mateo County sustainability office, Oakland District Attorney’s office, and Hayward Mayor Mark Salinas, just to name a few. The goal was to unite these groups in order to facilitate communication, ideas, and shared goals.
Public officials, non-profits, and students were discussing how to practically and effectively bring the changes we all want to see on a local level and beyond. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), California released up to 94 million metric tons of carbon in 2022. The majority of this gas was produced by transportation and the industrial sector.
Additionally, speeches were given during the event by public officials but also by students who make up the club membership and internships for the climate action program. The students wrote a sentence simply stating that “They want to live in a world where?” And the student elaborates on the rest; this was in response to a number of climate crises and environmental issues. “This was a very powerful moment when they all stood up across the room, and that set the tone for the day,” said Katie Dickinson.
Representatives from the City of Hayward came forward to speak about their progress in collaborating with students to get feedback by conducting interviews in the community. “they’ve collaborated with students to do this work, and it’s been great to see,” stated Dickinson.
The agenda shifted to breakout groups where a pre-questionnaire was given with a specific focus; according to Dickinson, “We sent a pre-questionnaire to every attendee asking what the main challenges you’re facing in the environmental justice space are. What steps have you taken to address environmental injustices in your area? And so we utilized that and printed out case studies from our attendees’ actual work. We placed those at each of the tables, and we asked the tables to read through all of the different case studies and asked them to answer the question. How would this collective, you know, nonprofits, schools, and municipalities work to help address these issues that we’re all dealing with?”
Moving forward in the schedule, there was some elaboration and expression of ideas. Getting things to flow in a synchronous manner by asking what the group’s shared goals are and what some students hope to accomplish overall by working in the group. After a round of some insightful and heartfelt commentary on behalf of students and community professionals, there was a break for lunch. The conversation didn’t really stop, it was just at leisure, and there was food, but the discussions were lively, and lots of people freely discussed ideas and personal ambitions. Community professionals were no exception, and it seemed that just about everyone who attended was fully engaged in the content and purpose of this community college climate action event.
After lunch, a few students spoke about some posters they had made in regard to specific climate issues that were of concern to them, such as threats to biodiversity and how to maintain biodiversity. “This is a complex issue; I don’t think there is just one solution. It’s a combination of a lot of work. That’s the reason why we invited these three entities to the room. Nonprofits have been in the trenches working with frontline communities, working with actual residents on the ground on these issues. Cities and municipalities have the authority to make laws and ordinances that affect our future. And the last ingredient is students and college teachers, and then you talk about solutions,” stated Dickinson.
One of the positive results for students who participate in this group is the internship opportunities. Katie Dickinson’s group of students operates as interns, and she focuses on developing a student’s career from the very start of their commitment to the group. The event came to an end with a general discussion on how people felt about the day and any closing remarks or questions they might have for the panel of students and professionals. There were a few light questions but mostly gratitude and excitement from students looking forward to the next event. Handshakes, pictures, smiles, and information exchange would be the send-off until the next climate action event, which is said to be held sometime in December.
“Our focus has been getting students jobs, internships, and opportunities in the green workforce. Change isn’t going to happen overnight, but it will happen gradually as we educate our students and youth about these issues. They’re smart; once you give them a chance to really work and get down and do the nitty gritty work, they take off. They do it themselves, and they’re passionate. I have hope for the future; that’s why I got into this work. It’s because I’m a young person, and all the students I work with are even younger than me. There are social justice issues that they bring to bear, my students live in these communities that are going to be most impacted by the climate crisis, and that’s what makes this a need for them to be central to this work because they know that if they aren’t, then our ways are just going to continue,” stated Dickinson.
Feb. 24 marked the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, where Russia continues to ravage the north, south, and eastern countryside, terrorizing the citizens of Ukraine. To date, current reports estimate 8,401 killed and 14,023 wounded, with new information coming in every day.
Since the war began, there have been an inspiring number of rallies and a tragic amount of funerals and vigils in Ukraine and the United States. On Feb. 28 at Stanford University, a vigil was held to honor the fallen service members and victims of the war in Ukraine.
The “Taize Prayer” vigil took place around 7 p.m. at Stanford Memorial Church, organized by the Ukrainian Student Association at Stanford and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America’s San Jose branch. A dark, somber, yet beautiful setting was observed in silence, but the night itself was full of music and harmonic tones and hymns coming from those who participated in the prayers. On a stormy night with low visibility under rainy conditions, the church was welcoming, layered with extravagant art, and candles lit throughout. Surely, if you did not visit the church often, the night’s setting only intensified the scale of what was being mourned, a deadly war that is unjust and has claimed a regrettable number of victims.
The history of the Taize dates back to 1940, when it was founded by Brother Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche — a Monk who belonged to an ecumenical monastic order of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Brother Rogers was 90 years of age when he was stabbed and killed in 2005 at a prayer service.
The vigil lasted for the span of about an hour. It was hard not to think of how far away the war was with respect to the church. The church’s enormous size, towering stained glass, and high ceilings emphasize the war’s immenseness. Ukrainian families and military forces have experienced tremendous loss in the death of some amazingly talented, dedicated, and passionate people.
Medics, emergency service volunteers, journalists, filmmakers, artists, authors, and many more important members of Ukrainian society have fallen victim to this war. Estonian Defense Minister Kusti Salm, in a Washington briefing, stated, “In this area, the Russians have employed around 40,000 to 50,000 inmates or prisoners. They are going up against regular soldiers, people with families, people with regular training, valuable people for the Ukrainian military.”
Currently, the actual numbers are unknown, but some reports say more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 14,000 wounded. Additional reports on military personnel say 9,000, while others report losses of 100,000. There is no concrete information about how many funerals there have been.
Vigil attendees were scattered throughout the church, sitting across long benches, giving each person a chance to grieve and contemplate individually or with friends and family. After the vigil, there was emotion, tears, and embraces from church participants. A few stepped forward to lend their voice, “It’s very heartbreaking to lose people you grew up with; we ask ourselves why they had to die. I think of the holidays, my childhood, and it’s hard to talk about, said UNWLA member Alla Torska. Another member, Iryna Anpilogova, stated, “I just left my friends behind in Spain, and I can’t see them now. I was speaking with a friend back home and crying. We spoke about how Mauriapol doesn’t exist anymore. It’s hard to find the words, and to simply say that I’m sad doesn’t fully comprehend how I feel.”
Another vigil was held on Mar. 24 at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento at 6 p.m. This vigil, being more demonstrational, had aspects of a rally and was organized by the Sunflower Society of Sacramento, a group dedicated to bringing awareness to the ever-developing situation in Ukraine.
The vigil began as the sun set, with a large showing from local Ukrainian residents and some who traveled to attend the event. Although this was a vigil, it was just as much about the expression of outrage toward the genocide and mass murder of Ukrainian people, stolen from their lives by Russian aggression, with the majority of supporters recognizing these actions as Russian terrorism.
The prevailing facts are that Russia is waging an unjust war using illegal, inhumane, and barbaric tactics. With numerous Human Rights violations, Putin has been officially recognized as a war criminal. Simultaneously, the civilian death toll continues to rise in Ukraine. This month, April, Russia is due to take up the leading chair for the U.N. Security Council as they did in Feb. 2022. Each of the 15 members takes up the presidency in rotation. “Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality,” said White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre.
As a permanent member, Russia has veto power, and to pass a vote, it requires nine votes in favor, absent a permanent member voting against it. Russia has vetoed past measures to address their aggression from the council with abstentions from China, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil. Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhaylo Podolyak, stated that this was “another rape of international law … an entity that wages an aggressive war, violates the norms of humanitarian and criminal law, destroys the U.N. charter, neglects nuclear safety, can’t head the worlds key security body.”
There were demonstrations with the evening light, and attendees of all ages, ranging from seniors to children, came out to support the vigil. Protesters held signs highlighting Russian terrorism and calling for the arrest of Putin, the war criminal. There was discussion, live art performances, music, and displays. The attendees chanted “Slava Ukraini,” while some educated others by sharing information and updates. Two organizers stepped forward to give captivating speeches and engaged with the audience, Daria Avtukh and her Mother Olena Avtukh. A few more speakers, including former California Assemblyman Ken Cooley, joined in with a message to remain united in supporting Ukraine’s efforts.
Night fell just as speeches ended, along with observed moments of silence to mourn for those who passed as a result of this war. The signs from the demonstration and artwork were set up for display, illuminated by rows of candles. “This vigil, like any other vigil we’ve held, has a special place in my heart. None of them are alike, but they all mean strength and perseverance to me. The fact that we’re here and stand up and raise our voices after 13 months of this horrible war means that this tragedy touches our hearts deeply, and we won’t let it go unnoticed or forgotten. To me, this vigil meant another step closer to the victory of light over darkness,” said Daria Avtukh, Sunflower Society Organizer and Miss Ukraine California 2023.
As the evening ended around 8:30 p.m., organizers stayed behind with those who wished to share and observe the candlelit displays of remembrance. A vigil attendee, Duane McMullen, stated, “The vigils help me to feel like maybe there is something I can do by showing support and always reminds me of how strong the Ukrainian people are; they will never give up. I stand with them all the way.”
The Sunflower Society organizes multiple events every month, with the next coming in April. These events are exceptional for Ukrainian and American relations, especially if you want to get involved and support the war effort right here from home in Northern California. UNITED24, Open Hearts UA, and Kyiv Society for the Protection of Animals are good places to start with donations.
5,914,000 Ukrainians are internally displaced, and another 8 million reportedly live as refugees in other countries. Funerals are daily in Kyiv now, because fighting in Bakhmut, and Kherson has become increasingly dangerous, although recently liberated from Russian occupation. Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, and more are still under Russian occupation. Most, if not all, of Russia’s military actions, have violated the Geneva Conventions and will leave scars upon the country and psyches of Ukrainian citizens for generations to come. In response; the Ukrainian people have rallied together no matter where they are, standing with an unshakable resolve to keep their home and preserve their way of life.
On Mar. 17, Vladimir Putin was recognized by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a war criminal. They issued arrest warrants for Russian President Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, his children’s rights commissioner and confidant, for the abduction of what’s estimated to be around 16,221 Ukrainian children. More than likely traumatized and abused, these children were forced into adoption by Russian families against their will.
Additional charges include the crimes of murder, rape, and torture of Ukrainian civilians, confirmed by the discovery of mass graves holding hundreds of bodies buried by Russian soldiers in cities like Bucha, Mariupol, and Izyum. While some bodies were service members, the majority were civilians, including some children.
The list of Russian atrocities also includes the execution of POWs, the most prominent being Oleksandr Matsiyevsky which was filmed in horrific detail on Dec. 30, gaining political and media attention globally. In the video, moments before he is shot, the soldier says, “Slava Ukraini,” which means “Glory to Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to find the murderers responsible and stated that he “wanted us all in unity to respond to his words. Glory to the hero. Glory to the heroes. Glory to Ukraine.”
Russia and the Wagner group have resorted to utilizing convicted prisoners as front line infantry due to their losses, with promises of a pardon, clean records, and reintegration into Russian society. U.N. Human Rights Officials stated, “We are deeply disturbed by reports of visits by members of the so-called Wagner Group to correctional facilities in various regions of Russia, offering pardons for criminal sentences to prisoners who join the group and take part in the war in Ukraine, as well as a monthly payment to their relatives.” Numerous human rights violations have been associated with these criminal military fighting units.
Russia has consistently targeted heavily populated urban centers in what has amounted to thousands of missile strikes in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kherson, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Ravine, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Poltava, and Lviv. These strikes included a theater mainly occupied by children seeking safety in Mariupol; people’s homes, office buildings, malls, hospitals, and schools. None of these are hardened military targets. In addition, Russia has deployed munitions such as the infamous hypersonic Kinzhal missile, which cannot be intercepted by conventional means, along with thousands of ballistic missiles like the Kh-55, Kh-101, Kalibur, S-300, and Iskander. Some of these repurposed missiles lack accuracy and effectiveness on hardened military targets and have been used solely to attack civilian population centers.
The foundation of Ukrainian society has been rocked to its core, yet, in the face of an attempted Russian invasion, Ukrainian defense forces repelled the primary attacks into the capital Kyiv and beyond. The war has since shifted to Russia regularly terrorizing the civilian populace with constant aerial assaults from drones and ballistic missiles.
Russian military operations on the ground have been largely ineffective in gaining control of the country, exhausting their troops and equipment. For example, ongoing operations and U.N. sanctions have severely hindered Russia from getting enough components to build military hardware like missiles, light armored vehicles, tanks, helicopters, and jets. So far, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has reported that Russia has lost upward of 2,300 infantry fighting vehicles and 1,700 tanks, about two-thirds gone from the Russian inventory, which include the T-72B3, T-72B3M, and T-80BV. The IISS suspects that actual figures appear to be 40% higher than what is currently being reported by the Russian state.
The same can be said for Russian aircraft with losses of 15% or greater, which includes the Su-30SM, Su-34, and Su-35. In addition, Russian troop levels have been reported to be between 150,000 and 200,000 killed, wounded, or lost to some other circumstance. Russia is suspected of not accurately reporting these numbers. Problems with replacing experienced personnel with proper training has exacerbated the situation. To compensate for staggering losses at the hands of Ukrainian defenses and to offset the effects of U.N. sanctions, Russia has resorted to rampant looting of anything useful in the locations occupied by their forces. When they retreat, they leave behind a trail of waste ranging from industrial supplies to broken and sabotaged gear.
So it’s no surprise that Russia has sought help from longtime partner nations with questionable, if not defunct, relationships with Western allies — countries such as China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, India, and Belarus. More countries are being actively recruited; South Africa and Mali, for example, are being considered. With Russia using its power over oil markets in the face of sanctions, countries have responded by either staying neutral to get the benefits of Russian oil or reinvesting in their own oil production. As a result, these actions have set back efforts to move away from oil dependence and combat climate change.
On the other hand, Ukrainian forces have had continuous support from western allies and have requested more to combat increasing Russian aggression. Ukraine’s military has excelled at repelling Russian forces from the majority of occupied regions and retaking them. Ukrainian forces were projected to lose much more territory, if not the entire country, showing the world true dedication and sacrifice to protect one’s home.
Currently, the U.S. has sent 8,000 Javelins, 1,600 Stingers, 160 howitzers, 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, one million artillery rounds, 100,000 of 125 mm tank rounds, and 100,000 rounds for small arms. The list also includes helicopters and UAVs. In addition, there is a significant need for tanks which the White House has agreed to send along with Bradley Infantry fighting vehicles.
“Working with European partners and Ukraine, the United States also launched the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — a coalition of 50 partner nations that has enhanced our coordination of security assistance deliveries to help the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend themselves against Russia’s unjust and unprovoked assault. Together, members of this group already committed $50 billion in security assistance, including nearly 700 tanks and thousands of other armored vehicles, more than 1000 artillery systems, more than two million rounds of artillery ammunition, more than 50 advanced multiple rocket launch systems, and anti-ship and air defense systems.” according to the White House Press Briefing: One Year of Supporting Ukraine.
Ukraine applied for EU membership on Jun. 23 last year and applied for NATO membership shortly after but has been actively pursuing this goal since 1994. Since then, a number of countries have given billions in aid, and at least 28 have given military aid. NATO partners like the UK, Germany, Canada, and Poland lead the way next to EU institutions. Yet, the U.S. is by far the largest contributor to military aid and second only to the EU in financial aid.
The greatest concern militarily to Ukraine is obtaining modern battle tanks and subsonic jet fighters. So far, the U.S. has agreed to send the M1 Abrams, the UK to send Challenger 2 tanks, and Germany agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks. Countries like Poland said they would send their reserve Leopard 2 tanks that they received from Germany. The F-16 Falcon, most famous for its roles in the film “Iron Eagle” is the jet fighter up for consideration. A multirole fighter from the 70s, with multigenerational designs and modern hardware updates used in several U.S. wars and still in service to this day, is currently in the discussion phase.
Upon the anniversary, the Department of Defense committed to the long-term goal of a Ukrainian victory with the White House on Feb. 24, stating, “One year ago, Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The United States has rallied the world in response, working with our allies and partners to provide Ukraine with critical security, economic, and humanitarian assistance and leading unprecedented efforts to impose costs on Russia for its aggression. This week, President Biden visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and Warsaw, Poland, to send a clear and powerful message that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
The Nuclear Threat
Ukraine is the home of Chernobyl, where an infamous nuclear meltdown occurred in 1986; the long-decommissioned power plant sits as a reminder of the dangers involved in maintaining a nuclear reactor and what a reactor meltdown looks like. Workers abandoned the site due to occupation by Russian forces during the invasion, who retreated after just over a month, but not before looting and disturbing a large amount of irradiated dust, increasing the area’s hot spots. Additionally, the Ukrainian power grid has been a significant target for the Russian military, with missile strikes knocking out power for millions of Ukrainian residents as well as recent strikes in Zaporizhzhya, causing the plant to operate on backup power using diesel generators.
While some cities, like Marinka, in Donetsk, have been completely destroyed and are now devoid of life, others, like Zaporizhzhya, are central to the survival of the entire country and beyond. The city supports a major nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, and this area is particularly vulnerable to battles and shelling. Russian forces are currently holding the plant, and it continues to present a high threat level should the plant be damaged beyond repair from the shelling it commonly receives or loss of power for any extended duration.
U.N. watchdogs and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are closely monitoring the power plants developing situation. Recently the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, set forth plans to turn the plant and the surrounding area into a demilitarized zone. Still, it is only Russia that has stated they’re making improvements to nuclear storage and protections for the power plant.
“It is obvious that military activity is increasing in this whole region, so the place can’t be protected,” Grossi stated. At one point, the plant produced 20% of the nation’s energy, and now, the plant is no longer producing anything for Ukraine. President Zelensky has stated that Russia is using the power plant to blackmail and hold Ukraine hostage to the nuclear threat. The possibility of a nuclear accident has risen drastically since September last year and continues to be an escalating point of conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Now we may be at a precipice for WWIII or nuclear annihilation, with the Doomsday Clock currently sitting at 90 seconds to midnight. This escalation is, in large part, a direct result of the war in Ukraine. A consistent march toward nuclear proliferation for countries like Iran, gains in building intercontinental ballistic missiles for North Korea, and a buildup of current arsenals in countries like India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we could be facing a “third nuclear age.” Noting that the treaty between Russia and the United States, “New START,” could be on borrowed time.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “The world has entered a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.” Biological weapons are also a very real threat on the battlefield. Anything of this nature put into use jeopardizes a fragile boundary in the conduct of war. After all, Putin directly supported President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in using chemical weapons on his own civilian populace.
Other countries have ambitious goals; for example, China, a nuclear powerhouse, has its own plans for a possible invasion of countries like Taiwan by 2027. What happens in this war will set the stage for world powers throughout the foreseeable future, benchmarking this event for decades to come.
On Feb. 28, in what has become a growing movement across the country, students and teachers amassed on the steps of the Supreme Court to support legislation that would essentially cancel the student loan debt of upward of $400 billion for more than 40 million students.
In what has become an ongoing battle within the judicial system growing in filings, proceedings, and public infamy. With organizations like The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and a myriad of state and local governments accompanied by agencies and unions representing millions of student voices. A few conservative judges and states stand in the way of accomplishing this goal for so many. “This court should uphold the lawfulness of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s plan to provide critical relief to student-loan borrowers impacted by an unprecedented pandemic,” written in an amicus curiae brief.
Publicly there is a lot of determination and effort coming from students as debt relief addresses the hardships and challenges faced during the COVID pandemic period. A difficult time for just about everyone who lived and worked in a metropolitan or communal area; these effects are still being felt today by many as the world has been forced to adapt to what was once a killer virus with an extremely high mortality rate. Work schedules, small gatherings in close quarters, and not seeing a face in public for years still remain to be an issue today in common everyday life.
The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, known as the Heroes Act, originates from the 9/11, Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom era. In 2001 the Secretary of Education was granted waiver authority to respond to national emergencies. In 2003 this authority was broadened by a bill put forth into legislation by Rep. Kline (R-MN) passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Bush to provide student debt relief for troops serving overseas.
“Several provisions of the HEROES Act indicate that Congress intended the Act to confer broad authority under the circumstances and for the purposes specified by the Act. First, the Act grants authority notwithstanding any other provision of law, unless enacted with specific
reference to this section. Id. § 1098bb(a)(1). Second, the Act authorizes the Secretary to waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs. Id. § 1098bb(a)(1), (a)(2). Third, the Act expressly authorizes the Secretary to issue such waivers and modifications as he deems necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency. Id. § 1098bb(a)(1). The Supreme Court has recognized that, in empowering a federal official to act as that official deems necessary in circumstances specified by a statute, Congress has granted the official broad discretion to take such action. This authority is not, however, boundless: it is limited, inter alia, to periods of a war, other military operation, or national emergency (id. § 1098bb(a)(1)), to certain categories of eligible individuals or institutions (id. § 1098ee(2)), and to a defined set of purposes (id.§ 1098bb(a)(2)(A)–(E)),” stated in a letter from The Department of Educations General Counsel Lisa Brown to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
In opposition is a clique of Republican-dominated states, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and South Carolina, and a cabal of individuals, represented by two Texas residents who would not fully benefit and claim to be injured parties for the purpose of a lawsuit. The Department of Education v. Brown, No. 22-535, is the case for Myra Brown, whose debt is held with the commercial industry. Alexander Taylor, who did not receive a Federal Pell Grant, is only eligible for half the relief.
This meets the precedent of “standing,” a requirement that must be met to maintain a case against ruling in favor of student debt relief. Called “one of the nation’s most ambitious and expensive executive actions in the nation’s history,” and believed to be a violation of the separation of powers by Justice John G Roberts. That is the separation of the legislative branch, the judiciary branch, and the executive branch. Indicating that the President does not have executive authority to overreach in this judicial case that has become highly controversial.
Although in the previous administration, President Donald Trump had evoked this act during his term in office in March 2020. President Donald Trump had already declared that COVID was a national emergency and took action to pause student loan requirements.
Furthermore, “the major questions doctrine” has been stated as being applicable in this case, which means that any initiatives with significant political consequences for millions of Americans should be decided with congressional authority. Justices Roberts and Thomas both became very focused on the exact meaning of the text when observing the word “waive,” stating that the text does not specify the waiving or cancellation of loan balances.
In recent Supreme Court cases, this same doctrine was used to narrow and restrict the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to take any official action on climate change. A similar ruling followed soon after, again using the doctrine. This time it was restricting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from upholding a moratorium on evictions as well as standing against any requirements for employers to have their employees vaccinated.
The administration disagreed and indicated that the HEROES Act does state this express authority previously given to the secretary of education to accomplish legislative action for this exact purpose, which is to take action on behalf of students in the face of a national emergency.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, fully supporting the president’s plan, compiled a report made up of feedback from students and organizations. Some of the organizations are the Debt Collective, NAACP, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. The senator personally stated that “if the Supreme Court fails to apply the law as it is written and uphold Biden’s student debt plan, it’s the most vulnerable Americans who will be harmed most. It’s incumbent on her and others to push the Supreme Court to do its job and allow the president to cancel student debt.”
What is the current state of the case?
With oral arguments having ended, it is time for deliberation, which can take up to three months to reach a decision. With over 40 million students awaiting $ 20,000 worth of loan forgiveness, the Education Department sent a mass email to students reassuring them that the administration would continue to provide support.
“Our administration is confident in our legal authority to adopt this plan, and today made clear that opponents of the program lack standing even to bring their case to court. While opponents of this program would deny relief to borrowers who need support as they get back on their feet after the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. We will continue providing updates and notify borrowers directly before payments restart. Payments will resume 60 days after the Supreme Court announces its decision. If it has not made a decision or resolved the litigation by June 30, payments will resume 60 days after that,” wrote Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
After observation of the loan process during the years of COVID, the warning is dire; if debt relief is not utilized there could be “a historic rise in delinquencies and defaults,” according to the Department of Education. June is the projected date for the court’s decision while millions of students across the country wait it out as their futures and quality of life hang in the balance.
In the wake of Tyre Nichol’s death on Jan. 10 at the hands of Memphis police officers, the violence caught on video hit home in the Hayward community with residents.
The Bay Area is a culturally rich place to live, and Hayward is no exception. With such a diverse population, it is no surprise that such a violent public death for yet another person of color is beyond disturbing and evokes strong emotions in the community. This type of sentiment motivates the need for change, and the best place for this to start is by listening directly to the voices of the communities affected by the policies that govern the police.
Discussion and engagement can bring people together, which is precisely what transpired within an organization known as People of Change (POC). On Feb. 1, a vigil was held outside the Hayward City Hall at 5 p.m. in response to police violence and the killing of Tyre Nichols. The night was cold, but that didn’t stop some residents from coming out to convene and express how upset they were to see yet another person of color killed by police in the news.
The vigil was hosted by Amelia Bonilla, Jordan Leopold, and Leonardo Nicolas Huerta. Jordan opened the night and gave a heartfelt speech on race relations and policing in our local Bay Area communities, particularly Hayward. Although some of the members had impassioned speeches to provide, the event was purposed to be an open mic night, and it was indeed.
“No justice, no peace,” the crowd chanted, a familiar rallying cry for social justice warriors as they listened to Jordan speak about the tragedy of the loss of Tyre Nichols. “This is a national problem,” he proclaimed and noticed how many others have experienced this execution style of force used most often on people of color. Some of the more known recent names are Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. The feelings of anger and sadness come to the surface yet again as it is expressed with deep emotion, wondering, “when will the discrimination and killings at the hands of police end?” Said Jordan.
Jordan also mentioned a lack of training and de-escalation practices; in its place, police are just shooting people of color who are viewed as a threat or physically beating them to death. The data for this misconduct should be public. Still, the organization believes, along with many other community members, that the facts and numbers behind this data are withheld from the public view. The consequences for police officers involved in misconduct are disciplined and retrained in-house with unreleased data; that is a fact. This procedure is standard within a department to investigate internally but keep what happens as a result off the public record.
How can there be accountability and trust in a community if there is no feedback after people in the community report police misconduct? These people who are victimized in one way or another by private citizens or police officers treat people like the enemy or criminals depending on which neighborhood they live in and their socioeconomic standing. Why do people of color face roadblocks to obtaining equality in the justice system?
The sentiment was that of frustration, stating openly within the crowd’s feedback to Jordan “that they were tired of hearing about people of color being killed like this.”
A Black mother from the Hayward community took the stage after Jordan and gave a very emotional speech about the danger she and her children were facing every day. How worried she was about the future lives of her children, ages six and seven. She was very upset about needing to have “the conversation” with them about the dangers of police and why we deserve to live. The fact that simply wearing a hoodie could mean death for them as Black children living in the Bay Area brought this mother to tears on stage. “We must demand change for our kids, or they will pay the price. Our babies don’t feel seen or heard; how can we make people care about Black lives and be seen as human beings,” She proclaimed.
Several more community members took the stage and, in one form or another, expressed the same distrust, frustration, and anger toward the police. Latino members of the community joined with Black residents and together shared the problems that face Black and Brown people. “Staying silent is not an option,” one community member exclaimed and mentioned in particular “the stereotypes used to discriminate against Latinos such as viewing them as lowriders and cholo gang members.”
This discrimination is universal as there are many cases over the decades of discrimination in the Latino community at the hands of police dating back much further than the 1930s. Still, it was these years that led up to a famous event. During the 1930s, dance halls were trendy, swing dancing and releasing some of the economic stress felt during the Great Depression.
In a New York neighborhood of Harlem famous for the Harlem Renaissance. The violent clashes of the Zoot Suit Riots, where mobs of U.S. servicemen, off-duty police officers, and civilians brawled with young Latinos and African Americans in Los Angeles. The June 1943 riots got their name from the baggy suits worn by minority youths during that era. Still, the violence was more about racial discrimination and not about conflict over fashion.
The vigil lasted about an hour or so, and afterward, residents came together and embraced each other, although some were meeting for the first time. The feeling of caring and concern about the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis was felt all the way over here in Hayward, 2,069 miles away. These killings happen far too often to people of color across the United States.
Hayward police are not exclusive, sharing in the disenfranchisement of people of color and sometimes providing unequal justice. It was on this night that residents of Hayward felt they could keep their silence about Tyre’s death no more and vowed to bring change, starting with their local police department.
To the right of the stage, there was an elegant memorial display of remembrance set up for Tyre Nichols, along with food items and informative handouts for the community members in attendance. Although the night was cold and attendance was not as good as it could have been, improving the weather will bring out more community members looking to get involved and create change. These residents didn’t take notice because they were there to break their silence. The passion that drove this event is a response to police violence, and unfortunately, this violence will most likely continue well into the future.
How did POC begin, and what is it all about?
In May 2020, in response to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, a group of people came together to discuss social media. A discussion was born from participating in protests with the Hayward Community Coalition (HAYCOCOA). A discussion group on Instagram was started for this purpose, to have engagement about the topic of police brutality.
“We drew inspiration and thought we’d do better as a collective. We didn’t know what would happen, just that we wanted to bring people together to form a discussion. To help unite and inspire the black and brown community for social and economic prosperity. We felt that we needed to take a stance on police accountability,” said Jordan Leopold, POC Organizer.
The discussion went well, and they moved forward with a history post about the City of Yanga, which was founded after a group of enslaved Africans, led by Gaspar Yanga, rebelled against colonial rule in 1570. Veracruz, enslaved Africans lived under strict laws in New Spain’s royal system. Africans who were able to liberate themselves could expect the following:
“…the Negro or Negro woman absent from the service of his or her master for four days shall suffer fifty lashes of the whip… and if they should be away more than eight days, for a distance exceeding one league, each of them shall suffer a hundred lashes, iron fetters weighing twelve pounds shall be tied to their feet with a rope, which they shall carry for two months and shall not take off under pain of two hundred lashes for the first offense; and for the second, each shall take two hundred lashes and shall not take the weights off for four months,” William H. Dusenbarry Historian.
Yanga would be one of many enslaved Africans to rebel against the slave system. Yanga’s rebellion was a combination of several hundred enslaved Africans who fled to seek shelter near the Veracruz mountains—going from Cofre de Perote to the Sierra de Zongolica mountains. The rebels established a small town where they could live on their own. For 30 years, the Yanguícos harvested their foods (sweet potatoes, sugar cane, tobacco, corn, and many others). They used machetes and sticks for the raiding of supplies from passing Spanish caravans.
Locals would transport goods in caravans that traveled from the Veracruz port to Mexico City, MX. But as African and Indigenous people fled slavery and sought refuge in the surrounding mountains, they took to raiding caravans regularly. These Yanguicos were a threat to the colonial order. In 1609, when a rumor started circulating that the Yanguícos were planning to overthrow local Spanish authorities in the neighboring towns and appoint Yanga as the king, the Spanish Crown’s Viceroy Luis de Velasco sent a battalion of a few hundred troops to kill them. The Yanguícos and the Spanish suffered numerous casualties during their battles, but Yanga would not be defeated. Yanga ultimately negotiated a ceasefire: the Spanish Crown consented to a treaty that, in 1618, allowed the Yanguícos to establish their government and live in peace.
Yanga serves as an inspiration for the Afro-Mexican movement. As the rebellion’s leader, Yanga negotiated a peace settlement with the Catholic priest Alonso de Benavides and Captain Manuel Carrillo, which granted the Yanguícos freedom as long as they did not allow any other self-liberated enslaved people to join them. Although the Spanish Monarchy tried to back out of this peace treaty, it remained in effect until Mexico gained independence in 1821. Since 1976, Yanga has held “Festival of Negritude” and “Primer Pueblo Libre de las Américas” (Festival of the First Free Pueblo in America) celebrations honoring the town’s creation.
This historical post on Gasper Yanga went viral and was picked up by mitú on Instagram and went on to pick up 35,000 likes and started a discussion that went overseas. It was after all of this engagement and interest that they decided to make POC official. “We knew the policy was needed to have an impact and to equip people with talking points so they could apply pressure,” Said Leonardo Nicolas Huerta, POC Organizer.
The group addressed the people in power for their education, the school board, and the city council. Eventually, it was able to have school resource officers removed from some schools and brought half a million dollars back to the school district. The organizing members all have higher education, including Jordan Leopold, having been a student body president at one time. Although currently, there is no POC club or official affiliation with any schools.
“It is crucial to what we do; education on historical figures is intersectional for black and brown folks to come together as a people and overcome the oppressor. Even though we’re showing historical figures, we are highlighting issues today like the Bay Area’s sea level rise, climate crisis, and the Bay Areas’ impact on that and highlighting the impacts in the east bay, given that there are many waste sites where Black and Brown people are living in those zones. We feel it’s our duty to help with education by doing something about it,” said Leonardo.
There are nine prominent organizing leaders in the organization currently. Their official “People of Change” website and mission statement state that “People of Change is on a mission to advance the social, political, and economic well-being of underserved communities of color through direct service and research. We aim to mobilize community members and organizations through social engagement, historical education & political empowerment.” peopleofchange.org
Who does the organization help and represent?
“We’re building a plan to help students while expanding our reach, having been in student government. I know all too well that students need resources and living assistance. Currently, we are growing in numbers and want more student involvement. Student leaders behind movements to expand beyond the community to be a movement. We are Bay Area residents, most of the team is in Hayward and some in Oakland, east bay, but we aim to reach the entire Bay Area. We recognize that although there are a lot of non-profit groups that help communities in the Bay Area. We also see that a good number of the people who work within these organizations don’t live in the neighborhoods of the communities they serve,” said Jordan.
The movement is said to involve all people and is open to all cultural backgrounds, but the group’s primary focus is empowering Black and Brown communities.
What kind of events does POC organize?
POC looks to provide community circles, speaking engagements, and a space for folks to talk about what’s happening to them. Currently, there is a plan in development to facilitate more conversation. Getting in front of people basically with a “soapbox.” Getting ideas and solutions to people who need them.
Additionally, POC would like to start a (Black & Brown) b&b market to highlight other Black & Brown small businesses, farmers markets, and block parties to check out other people’s arts. This collaboration could bring much-needed income to local community members, a new “Black Wallstreet.”
“We need to start small and keep our ears to the community, we can’t assume the value, but we want the actual impact to provide immediate value to people in need. Entertainment as culture, music, and art is of great interest to us; we’re looking to partner with the city of Hayward and local record stores, connecting with the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, blocking off a street, or a southland mall parking lot. Requirements, paperwork, and money are always a concern. We realized if we wanted to do something big, we needed to be more massive without diving too deep into our own pockets. Starting small allowed us to go further with our dollars by getting help within the community. Through coordination and challenge, we ultimately became a lot closer, which was good for the future of the organization,” said Jordan.
POC experienced growing pains and challenges in organizing events with obtaining permits, perishable food they could give out, sanitization, and a wide range of issues around “red tape.” Handing out water on the street to community members in 101-degree heat to people outside wandering around the lake. Hotdogs fed families, and they started connecting with people on a universal level, exchanging pamphlets with religious groups such as Christians and Muslims.
“It never comes down to funding; it comes down to creativity and low-cost, high impact. Getting in front of people, asking what they are looking for, what would benefit and improve their quality of life. Live physical community engagement, we see a lot of value in these, food, water, shelter, clothing, and economic opportunity. Basic level and ensure folks are taken care of and using those engagements. We are hearing the community’s experiences and using that to figure out what else can be done—trying to figure out who can do what and trying to close that gap. We see what works and what doesn’t work to improve our impact.
Coming in and listening based on what we hear, figuring out how we can help, we don’t assume ahead of time. Startups and business circles use this framework, trying to think strategically and not just momentarily.
Having more conversations with folks to see what we can learn and collaborate with other organizations,” said Jordan. POC’s first event was in Oakland at Lake Merritt. The second was with Pamoja Magazine, giving out free water snacks and showcasing art in Palo Alto. “It was a great catalyst culturally for people to see where we were coming from,” said Leonardo.
The third event for POC was attending “First Fridays” in Oakland, handing out pamphlets and water to people coming out of bars or musicians leaving gigs. This event is a regular occurrence, and POC continues to attend, handing out water and information regarding services for people in need.
“We are proud of our communication with communities, and the thinking of this brings to mind my time growing up. I was always discriminated against where I grew up in Palo Alto; my neighbors were treated very badly, which always bothered me. My parents moved from Mexico City to Palo Alto and have been there since the 60s. Myself and my family have not just been discriminated against by police officers but by the fire department and EMTs as well. I have been forced to remove my cultural clothing, including my sandals and stripped down in the middle of the street, and treated as less than human. I communicate about this with friends and family in So-Cal, some of them police officers and I tell them my experience, and even they ask why someone would do that,” said Leonardo.
You can find People of Change at upcoming “First Fridays” in Oakland, the next being this Friday, 2/10. Their website and mission statement can be found at @peopleofchange.org and [email protected]
HBO’s current hit series, “The Last of Us,” debuted on Jan. 15. In it, creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann portray a beautiful nightmare where an elaborate network of thriving parasitic fungi cause a global pandemic.
How real is this fictional show when compared with reality?
There is a genuine threat from fungi, but they provide many benefits as well. There are hundreds of thousands of fungi species, 600 or so discovered in the Cordyceps genus as of today. First discovered in China and used as medicine, it was believed by an emperor that digesting infected silkworms held the key to a longer life.
The history we know of Cordyceps dates back as far as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is mentioned in the Huang Di Neijing, otherwise known as the Chinese bible of medicine. Now, Ophiocordyceps Sinensis is specifically used for cancer treatments and a wide range of ailments in Chinese medicine, which is currently rare due to the difficulty in cultivation.
In addition, it’s because of fungi that we have everyday essentials such as penicillin, cheese, beer, and other commonly used products. Fungus also has a living cell structure, unicellular and multicellular, compared to a virus that is not living. So it needs a food source, and for the particular species mentioned in the show, insects are the primary source of nourishment.
That’s not to say that reptiles and mammals can’t become host to fungi because they can, indeed, just not by Cordyceps currently. Arthrobotrys is a predator of nematode worms. By snaring and trapping them, hyphae begin to grow through the worm and consume it from within. So overall, besides getting sick with a range of symptoms, the zombie-like mind control is more fiction than reality.
According to Biology Professor Rikki Edelman, certified Horticulturist and member of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, “even if there were to be a Cordyceps fungus attacking a human body, it would have a hard time breaching the internal walls and bones required to reach the human brain and numerous systems it would need to infect which is all highly unlikely. The show depicts what looks to be an amalgamation of fungi as it is growing everywhere, on the walls of buildings and through people.”
For this to happen in people first, according to Chabot College Microbiologist Robert Cattolica, who holds a (Ph.D.) in Pharmacology and Toxicology as well as a (BA) in Molecular Cell Biology, “there would need to be a rare crossover event, where the reason would be unknown to science. This crossover event would be something like going from an ant to a wasp or a small mammal.”
In the show, it is implied that climate change was the culprit in forcing adaptation to a warming planet where the fungus can then withstand the temperatures of the human body. This factor is stated as “being a real possibility where climate change and deforestation can destroy species or a food source and create the need for a new one. This, however is very unlikely in Cordyceps as it has evolved alongside its food source, which is mainly different insect species. This would take numerous exposure events on the part of humans to provide the opportunity for adaptation in the body. Not to mention the amount of tissue the fungus has to infect which is elaborate and extensive compared to the body of an ant.
“It would be more likely to infect a certain area of the body like the liver or mucus membrane. Spores being the optimal delivery mechanism and more infectious through ingestion compared to the biting depicted on the show” said Professor Cottalica.
Which fungi are currently dangerous to humans?
“The Cordyceps in the show seems to ignore animals and lacks the spore element that is extremely vital to fungus reproduction,” said Professor Edelman. The Cordyceps Militaris Fungus hijacks the body of ants mainly, filling it with a biomass of mycelium. It is a gruesome sight close up, the ant is flooded with chemicals and compelled to climb to a great height where it will perch and die until the fungus has fully formed and prepared to spore beginning the next life cycle.
In humans, spores are deadly and can cause long term respiratory illness or acute respiratory failure. This fungus is more commonly known as mold which can be found just about anywhere. More alarming is the 2009 discovery of Candida Auris which grows as yeast and is anti-fungal resistant. This fungus has climbed in infection rate, spread to several continents and is currently being tracked by the CDC. This fungus can cause illness and death in horrific ways, especially for people with immune deficiencies. Climate change is having a huge impact on the future of fungi, where the line that separates humans as hosts is starting to disappear. “Resistance is old in the fungi’s defense because antibiotics are used by fungus at war with each other to kill,” says Professor Cattolica.
Candida is super communicable in the form of spore dispersal which can be a problem for patient treatment in hospitals. There is even the possibility of being mistreated as infection from Candida can be hard to identify and made worse. Then there is Claviceps Purpurea which is an Ergot fungus that can cause hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, gangrene, spasms, convulsions, unconsciousness, and death. It grows on the ears of rye and can contaminate grain and seeds. This fungus was believed to influence the madness behind the Salem Witch Trials. These are just some of the known fungi dangerous to humans as science is still discovering unknown species and unseen behaviors from the fungi kingdom.
Can this fungus outbreak be engineered?
Humans have been known to experiment on just about everything and fungus is not exclusive. Anthrax and Smallpox are good examples although not directly fungi related. “If I was a mad scientist, I would bet on a virus over fungi as it is already designed to kill humans by nature. There needs to be significant breakthroughs and human experimentation that would need to take place for this type of engineering,” said Professor Cattolica. There are examples of this on a commercial scale as most of the safe products in one form or another can be purchased and used for pest control.
Cordyceps fungus can be used for insects and Arthrobotrys for nematodes. Because of the super combined elements of the show’s fungus, it has mixed characteristics when it comes to the infected people we have seen so far. For instance, the fungi located on the split heads, arms and necks of it’s victims are more shelf-like. According to Professor Edelman, “they look more related to the fungus Ganoderma, known as Reishi, which has healing properties for humans including cancer. This fungus can be very deadly for trees causing root and stem rot, yet safe everyday products are derived from this fungus and taken directly by humans for medicinal purposes. If you drink a coffee, you don’t become a coffee.”
Edible mushrooms are used on a daily basis for cooking or your pizza toppings. So the jury is still out on future possibilities, “as there are still so many functions never observed by science in the fungi kingdom,” said Professor Cattolica. Overall the show is really good from the opinion of these biology professors and brings a much-needed interest to the world of biology and climate change.
HBO’s “The Last of Us” show details
No spoilers: “The Last of Us” depicts a zombie-like outbreak caused by a Cordyceps fungus that initially grows with substrates in flower, grain, and bread factories. It stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie portraying an unlikely pair forced to come together by chance. Joel must get Ellie to a destination in this post-apocalyptic world safely. The show currently sits at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and has already been renewed for a second season, announced after the airing of only the second episode. Airing on Sunday evenings, becoming successful overnight, the show now boasts a viewership of twenty-two million and growing, making it the second biggest premiere for HBO in a decade.