Minority Advocacy Groups Feel Left Out of National Efforts, Funding

An ACLU pin is seen during a private dinner in Los Angeles in February.

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Recent executive orders on immigration have sparked an outpouring of donations from the general public, with national groups like the American Civil Liberties Union seeing the bulk of the financial windfall. For example, the ACLU recently raised $24 million in a single weekend.

But with the spotlight on large nonprofits, some smaller, minority-led groups find that the focus on high-profile courtroom showdowns with the current administration has come at the expense of support for grass-roots work. “For folks who are new to the issues of immigration or immigrant and refugee rights, [grass-roots groups] aren’t the first thing that pops up on Google when you’re trying to figure out what to donate your time or money to,” said Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of the National Partnership for New Americans, which is a coalition of 37 regional immigrant and refugee-rights groups across 31 states.

“If you live in a family that has never had to ask the question of who is going to take care of my kids if I’m deported, you won’t naturally think of the fact that you need a community-based organization or institution like a church or school to provide the information that isn’t necessarily a legal consultation but supports people facing continuous anxiety and fear during these times,” Raghuveer said. NPNA members provide rapid responses to urgent community needs from “Know Your Rights” workshops to assistance in formulating plans for what to do in case a family member is deported. While the organization has received increased support following the election, the demand for services has also risen.

The U.S. is home to over 1.5 million charities, most of which are small organizations that deliver a wide range of services while financially challenged by their overhead. According to GuideStar, which reports on U.S. charities, only 10 percent of registered nonprofits have annual revenues of $500,000 or more. The headline-making donations following the presidential election are the exception rather than the rule.

For donors like Clarissa Marzán, an account executive in New York City, giving to advocacy organizations like the ACLU is a way to maximize the impact of her contributions. “I wanted to donate to organizations that have a diverse mission so that I can still pitch in for other important causes such as immigration rights and LGBTQ rights,” she said. “I liked that organizations like the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center had that broad reach.”

To approximate that reach, minority-led organizations are banding together to share resources. “None of our partners are new — we’ve talked and worked together for years. But it certainly does feel different in this political climate,” said Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, whose mission is to develop local nonprofits across the country. In contrast to the ACLU, which raised nearly seven times what it raised during 2015 in the weekend following the executive order, NNAAC donations have risen by only 15 percent since the election.

At the state and national level, NNAAC partners with a variety of minority-led groups like South Asian Americans Leading Together and Muslim Advocates, which is a legal and education advocacy group. “We’re talking much more frequently as things are happening. We’re sharing news, talking points, and policy analysis to help accelerate our rapid response, so that we can have space for everyone who wants to be engaged,” Tonova said. Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT, commends large advocacy organizations for supporting their efforts as she works to build a cross-cultural coalition with organizations like United We Dream and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Members of Congress, including Rep. Joseph Crowley (second from right), participate in a vigil coordinated and sponsored by SAALT to honor and bring national attention to the victims of hate violence in South Asian, Sikh, Muslim and Arab-American communities across the country.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Some donors, like Austin Chanu, a music teacher in Los Angeles, support the efforts of these grass-roots groups to expand their community outreach in the aftermath of the election. “I have donated to larger groups or local political candidates [in the past] but have slowly come to the realization that my money is better being directed toward local grass-roots organizations that are working for racial, economic and social justice,” Chanu said. “I found out about BAJI just last month and after reading about its history and roots in Oakland and San Francisco, I knew I had to donate. They are doing important work organizing and educating African-American and black immigrant communities.”

But despite the support of donors like Chanu, some small, minority-led immigrant rights groups express frustration at not being included in the latest national organizing campaigns. On March 11, the ACLU launched PeoplePower.org, a platform to organize mass resistance to renewed threats to civil rights and civil liberties. The program builds on the widespread donations and support the group has received since President Trump’s inauguration and controversial executive orders, and it aims to take on the cause of grass-roots organizing nationwide.

In response to these critiques, Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s national political director, said the organization is “coming to the fight and bringing even more resources and personnel to lift up all of the fights that some of these groups are waging on the ground. We want to provide a platform that any grass-roots group could use to reach larger numbers of people.”

Still, one minority group leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast a skeptical eye on such initiatives. Although he acknowledges a good working relationship with the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center over the years, he is wary of attempts to expand their grass-roots work. “It appears to us that we need to order our priorities not only because of what Donald Trump is doing but also due to what groups like the ACLU are doing,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a competitive space because we have scarce resources, and we need to find the best way to use them.”

To Mijente, a Latino advocacy group in Chicago, the dominance of more “mainstream” organizations is nothing new. “Self-representation has been a central pillar of all successful social change movements, and it’s been one that’s historically been ignored in the immigrant-rights movement,” said Tania Unzueta, Mijente’s policy and legal director. “The people we need to be looking to and supporting right now are veteran organizers of red states who have lessons to share from the front lines of Trump’s America.”

Organizers from Mijente, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Ruckus Society and other activist organizations stage a protest and march outside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention in July 2016.

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Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

For minority-led groups, close engagement with and awareness of community needs provides an advantage in developing programming. Some organizations, like BAJI, strive for a bottom-up approach through member-led outreach. According to Carl Lipscombe, deputy director, “We’re out there in communities talking to them about their lives, so we have a better sense of the priorities of immigrant families and what they face day to day.”

James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab-American Institute, concedes that groups with resources and expertise to mount complex courtroom cases might be better placed to spearhead legal challenges, but he champions protecting a seat at the table for minority-led groups. “We challenge people to reflect on the cultural definition of America, who we are as a country, and what we want to be,” he said. “I think that’s something we can do, and that we are uniquely positioned to do, because of our experience, who we are, and our story.”


Akinyi Ochieng is a writer and researcher studying at the London School of Economics.

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Brazilian Soccer Star, Convicted In Ex-Girlfriend's Murder, Returns To The Sport

Former star goalie Bruno Fernandes de Souza, shown in 2012 at his murder trial in Contagem, Brazil, was convicted of ordering his ex-girlfriend’s death. He was recently released on a technicality and has been signed by another professional soccer team.

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A former Brazilian soccer player, sentenced to more than two decades in prison for ordering the murder of an ex-girlfriend, has returned to the sport. He was released from prison on a technicality and swiftly signed by a team.

The decision has prompted outrage in Brazil, The Associated Press reports. Multiple sponsors have pledging to drop their support for Boa Esporte, the team that signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza.

Souza — known as “Bruno” in Brazil — used to play for Flamengo, in Rio de Janeiro. But his career seemed to be over after he was convicted in the grisly 2010 murder of a former girlfriend, Eliza Samudio. CNN has more on the case:

“Bruno, his lover and his ex-wife were among nine people charged with torturing and murdering Samudio, who had been trying to prove [Souza] had fathered her son. …

“Samudio’s body was never found, but the goalkeeper’s cousin told the court Samudio had been demanding child support payments and that he had helped to dismember her body and fed her to several dogs.”

DNA eventually proved that Souza, who was married at the time, was indeed the father of Samudio’s child, the AP reports.

In 2013, Souza was convicted of ordering her murder, hiding her body and kidnapping their son. He confessed that he knew she was strangled and fed to dogs, but denied ordering her death himself, according to the BBC.

Souza was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison, but he was unexpectedly released about a month ago.

“A Supreme Court justice ordered his release on the grounds that his appeal to a higher court was languishing,” the AP reports.

Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, as NPR’s Lulu Garcia Navarro reported in depth last summer.

“In Brazil, a woman is killed every two hours and assaulted every 15 seconds – often by someone she knows — according to a report from the nonprofit Mapa da Violencia,” Lulu wrote. There are “specific laws against femicide and violence against women” meant to stem the epidemic — “But those laws haven’t been working.”

For example, Lulu spoke with Andreza da Silva, whose sister was murdered after she reported her husband for abuse. Here’s more from Lulu:

“Her sister’s husband became relentless, Silva tells me. He would show up outside the house and threatened that if she didn’t come back to him, he would kill her.

“She and the family asked for help, but the police did nothing. The neighbors said nothing.

“She thought he would eventually leave her alone. But on that December morning in 2015, he finally made good on his threats — murdering her in plain view. She was 32.

” ‘Why do you think this happened?’ I ask Silva.

” ‘The men here think that if you are with a woman, you own her,’ she tells me.”

Teresa Cristina Cabral, a state judge in Brazil who works on domestic violence training and education initiatives, notes that when Bruno de Souza’s case was first unfolding some people were critical of Samudio, the murdered woman, for having been Souza’s lover in the first place.

“Her behavior was kind of judged … [like] since she was not a ‘good girl,’ she deserved to die,” she says.

And now, Souza’s return to professional soccer sends a disturbing message about Brazilian attitudes toward domestic violence, Cabral says.

Brazilian model Eliza Samudio, shown in August 2009, disappeared in 2010. Bruno Fernandes de Souza was convicted of ordering her murder.

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“We don’t care if he killed a woman — it doesn’t matter, really, because it doesn’t have anything to do with his ‘professional’ behavior,” she says. And she worries about the impact on young soccer fans who might absorb the message: ” ‘Well, it’s just a woman that was killed, whatever.’ “

Cabral says she was encouraged to see some companies taking a stand against Boa Esporte for signing Souza, but that it’s clear cultural attitudes haven’t shifted on the issue.

Meanwhile, Boa Esporte stands by the controversial decision.

In one Facebook post, the president of the team suggested the team was doing something positive by giving him a job, which could provide “dignity.”

In another post, the team said Souza “deserves a new opportunity as a professional,” according to a CNN translation.

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Senators Grill Top Marine Over Nude Photo Scandal

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller responds to angry and skeptical questions from senators on Tuesday in Washington.

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The top U.S. Marine vowed in a Senate hearing to hold members of the Marine Corps accountable for sharing nude photos of female Marines online. But many members of the Senate Armed Services Committee responded with tough questions Tuesday, asking why more isn’t being done to protect female service members.

“We have to commit to get rid of this perversion to our culture. Enough is enough,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told the senators. “We will take action to correct this stain on our Marine Corps.”

The scandal has prompted a Pentagon investigation, and Neller said perpetrators may be subject to punishment through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Neller added that officials are in the process of revising their policy to make the consequences of actions like the photo-posting more direct, and said he believes that the current policy is not taught to Marines “with enough time or reinforcement.”

The explicit photos at the center of this scandal were published on a private Facebook group with some 30,000 members called Marines United, initially set up for current and veteran Marines to support each other. Neller said the photos were shared on a smaller group linked to on the main page.

“Some of the photos included detailed information,” NPR’s Tom Bowman reported, “and some of the women have been subject to harassment.” The Facebook group has been taken down, but the photos remain online on a different page.

“It’s hard to believe that something is really going to be done when we hear this repeated again and again, and we see these kind of situations again and again,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. “Why should we believe that it’s going to be different this time than it’s been in the past?”

Similarly, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said that after reports of online exploitation of women dating back to 2013, promises to fix the problem “ring hollow.” She said: “You have demanded that you maintain control of all these issues, but where is the accountability for failure? … I am very concerned that this is part of a culture that is resulting in the high levels of sexual assault.”

Gillibrand has been an “outspoken critic of the way the Pentagon has handled sexual harassment and assault,” Tom added. And Neller was frank in his response to Gillibrand, taking responsibility for the current problem:

“I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m not going to sit here and duck around this thing, I’m not. I’m responsible. I’m the Commandant. I own this. … I know you’ve heard it before, but we are going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we treat each other. That’s a lame answer, but ma’am, that’s the best I can tell you right now. We’ve got to change, and that’s on me.”

Tom added that the Marine Corps has prided itself on being “macho and traditional.” He described the somewhat uneasy transition for women into ground combat roles:

“There are some who are having trouble accepting women who recently started going into ground combat jobs. Now two years ago … to get ready for women in ground combat, all the Marines had mandatory training on ‘unconscious prejudice’ to help deal with any cultural resistance. [Neller] told senators today that he doesn’t know if there’s a connection between not accepting women and posting nude photos. What he did say was this: ‘We have to change the way we see each other as Marines.'”

It’s not just the Marines — Tom added that officials are also investigating similar websites linked to other services.

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Ethics Documents Suggest Conflict Of Interest By Trump Adviser

White House Director of Strategic Initiatives Christopher Liddell (left) with Dell CEO Michael Dell, and General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic during a meeting with President Trump on Feb. 23.

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Federal records indicate that a key adviser to President Trump held substantial investments in 18 companies when he joined Trump in meetings with their CEOs.

The investments of Christopher Liddell, the president’s director of strategic initiatives, totaled between $3 million and $4 million. Among the companies in Liddell’s portfolio, and whose CEOs were in the meetings: Dell Technologies, Dow Chemical, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin and Walmart.

When Trump conferred with the chiefs of Ford, General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler last month, Liddell attended the session. He was invested in all three companies at the time.

Details of Liddell’s investments are contained in documents he filed with the White House ethics officer in preparation for divesting his holdings. He was seeking certificates of divestiture, which allow federal appointees to defer paying capital-gains taxes by reinvesting in a blind trust or similar arrangement.

The watchdog group CREW, or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, today filed a complaint with White House Counsel Donald McGahn, raising concerns that Liddell may have violated the federal conflict of interest law, a criminal statute.

The complaint states: “If Mr. Liddell personally participated in meetings with companies in which he held significant amounts of stock, he may have violated these rules.”

The White House responded with this statement: “Mr. Liddell has been working with the Office of the White House Counsel to ensure he is fully compliant with his legal and ethical obligations in connection with his holdings and his duties in the White House.”

Liddell was born in New Zealand and is a U.S. citizen. In the past he has worked as chief financial officer of Ford Motors, International Paper and Microsoft.

It’s not clear if Liddell now has sold off his investments, but he apparently had not done so before the meetings in question. The meetings were held on Jan. 23, Jan. 24 and Feb. 3. On Feb. 9, the Office of Government Ethics issued four certificates of divestiture for Liddell and his wife. They would be worthless if the assets had already been sold.

The complaint is one of several actions by CREW on White House ethics issues. The group says in a lawsuit that Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments (gifts); it has questioned the ethics of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway after she urged TV viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s fashion merchandise; and it challenged the lack of transparency of two White House advisory committees.

CREW director Noah Bookbinder said of the White House, “It seems nobody is concerned about people making decisions based on their personal interests and not the interests of the American people.”

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Why The Famine In South Sudan Keeps Getting Worse

Women carry food in gunny bags after visiting an aid distribution center in South Sudan on March 10.

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Albert Gonzalez Farran /AFP/Getty Images

Things are spiraling downward in South Sudan, one of four nations where, according to the U.N., the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945 is unfolding.

And in the case of South Sudan, it’s not drought or climate change that’s causing the catastrophe. It’s civil war.

Last month the U.N. declared a famine in two parts of the country and warned that nearly half the population is in urgent need of food assistance.

Soon after this declaration, the American relief agency Samaritan’s Purse was forced to pull most of its staff out of one of the famine-stricken zones because of fighting in the area. A skeleton crew of 7 local staff members remained behind. Then on Sunday, armed gunmen abducted those workers.

A spokesman for the South Sudanese military said the aid workers were being held for ransom by rebel fighters demanding food aid in exchange for their release.

On Tuesday, Samaritan’s Purse confirmed that their employees had been let go.

“At the very moment that we are talking they are in a helicopter on their way to Juba. They’ve been released,” says Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs for Samaritan’s Purse, who spoke to NPR by phone earlier today from the aid agency’s headquarters in North Carolina.

“I think they’re OK. I don’t know if they were manhandled. We are under the assumption that they’re safe, OK and they’re headed out.” Negotiations involving local military leaders on both sides of the conflict, he says, brought about their release. He adds that no ransom was paid.

The abduction, however, has forced the aid group to halt operations in the epicenter of one of the worst famines in the world.

“This incident clearly illustrates the complexities and dangers of working in South Sudan,” Isaacs says. At the same time that people are starving, fighting has turned parts of the country into no-go zones for relief agencies.

This same pattern is playing out in three other countries in the world right now, prompting the U.N. to declare that it’s facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Violence in Yemen, according to the U.N., has left 18 million people — nearly two-thirds of the country — in need of humanitarian aid. Drought combined with chaos and extremist militants in Somalia are leaving millions hungry there. And in West Africa, Boko Haram fighters have terrorized people across large swaths of Northern Nigeria, driven farmers from their land and left a massive food shortage in their wake.

Back in South Sudan, another area where famine has been declared is Leer County, just south of where the Samaritan’s Purse team was working.

Nellie Kingston, emergency coordinator for Concern Worldwide in South Sudan, visited Leer last week. Reached by phone in the capital Juba, Kingston says Leer is a wasteland.

“I saw no planting in Leer County. Villages are deserted. People are hiding in swamps to avoid the fighting,” Kingston says. Most of the fit, able-bodied residents have fled to camps set up by the United Nations, she says. Those left behind have almost nothing to eat.

“The people I met are living on what they can forage in the swamps where they live. Luckily those people have access to fish [from the swampy water], which adds some protein to their diet.”

Kingston says this is a manmade food crisis. Fighters from both the government and the rebel side in the war have been accused of robbing, raping and killing civilians. Gunmen have torched crops and chased farmers from their fields.

Logistically, she says, it’s very hard for aid agencies to deliver food rations to people hiding in remote swamps. And when the rains hit later this spring, she says, most of the dirt roads will turn to rivers of mud, making the delivery of aid across much of Leer County nearly impossible. “In the next rainy season, those people are locked into where they are,” she says.

The World Food Programme has been trying to reach some of them by dropping bags of grain from airplanes into some parts of the country. Last year the WFP distributed a record 265,000 metric tons of food supplies by air and truck across South Sudan, the most since South Sudan gained independence in 2011.

Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse says that just when it looked as if things couldn’t get any worse in South Sudan, the country has become even more chaotic.

“If something isn’t done to bring a stable government to the area soon,” he says, “we are going to see much more loss of life and a lot more bloodshed.”

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Making Sense Of The Dutch Election — And The Role Geert Wilders May Play

Right-wing Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders gestures as he talks to Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a national televised debate on Monday. Wilders’ Freedom Party had been leading in the polls until recently.

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After the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s U.S. victory last year, political analysts wonder if populism will gain ground on the European continent amid the impact of a migration crisis and dissatisfaction with the European Union. With elections approaching in France, Germany and the Netherlands, the question has gained urgency.

The answer may start to become clearer Wednesday, when the first of these elections takes place and Dutch voters head to the polls. Among the front-runners in the Netherlands parliamentary election is Geert Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party.

Wilders, who’s been compared to Trump by the Dutch press and some voters, is a colorful figure, known for his bleached-blond pompadour and extreme rhetoric. He has been running an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant “Holland First”-style campaign and has vowed to “make the Netherlands ours again.” The Freedom Party had been leading in the polls, but recently slipped.

So how much does Wilders matter? Two political analysts in Amsterdam weigh in. André Krouwel is a political scientist at the Free University of Amsterdam and Emilie Van Outeren, a political reporter with NRC, a leading Dutch newspaper, spent five months in the U.S. covering the presidential race. Their responses have been condensed and edited for space.


Who are Wilders’ supporters?

Krouwel: He actually mobilizes quite a broad range of people. There’s a lot of older voters who feel very insecure about how this country is changing with immigration. They feel like the undeserving are coming into our country, taking away or undermining our welfare state, our healthcare.

The other group is people who are at the lower end of the labor market and they feel threatened by labor immigration. Then there’s, of course, just people who think that Dutch culture is going down the drain by immigration. They don’t like the multicultural society, or they feel like their neighborhood is changing too much.

Do you see any connections between the concerns of these voters and some of the concerns that played out in the Brexit vote and Trump victory?

Krouwel: I think they’re exactly the same people. They are people who not necessarily are poor, but actually have a lot to lose. Trump voters, they earned over $70,000 per annum. You see a large part of the Wilders vote, they’re earning a lot of money. Most of them earn more this year than last year, but they feel that they might lose everything. So, it’s not what they have, it’s what they think they might lose.

How does the European migration crisis, the refugee crisis, fit into this?

Krouwel: If every night you see hordes of people [on TV] walking down roads with whole families moving this way, people feel anxious about it. They feel like hordes of immigrants and refugees are coming into our country and we’re swamped by them. That’s also the language that Wilders is using, that we’re [being] taken over and we have to take back our country.

Is Wilders the Dutch Donald Trump?

Van Outeren: No, he’s so establishment. He’s never held a job outside of the government. Trump’s appeal was obviously that he was an outsider and this was a change election for the United States.

What you do see is the language. That’s something that they definitely have in common and this nativist idea, Trump’s slogan “America First.” Wilders has made his slogan “Let’s Make the Netherlands Ours Again.”

So there are a lot of similarities, but not as many as people might think. And then there’s the hair, of course.

If Wilders were to get the most votes, what kind of impact would that have in the Netherlands?

Van Outeren: What is new is that in this campaign, other parties have already said they exclude governing with Wilders. So what it will mean is that if his anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-EU narrative wins and draws people to the polls, then that says something to the leaders of all these other parties — and they will run a very different government with him as a huge opposition force than they will if he comes in third.

How significant is this election in the broader Western context?

Krouwel: If you see Brexit, which is an anti-elite vote, if you see Trump beating the hell out of the Democrats, you can see that, wow! Two times, the whole establishment is put to shame.

If Wilders also succeeds and then in France, [National Front leader] Marine Le Pen wins in the summer, and then in Germany, the anti-immigration [Alternative for Germany] party does, well, yeah, then I would be really worried.

What I think will happen is that Wilders will not be first, but second or third — not play a role in government. In Germany, the Social Democrats will probably be big and govern with the Christian Democrats, very normal coalition. Le Pen will not be president of France, so I think, come early 2018, it has all blown over. But then again, a small thing can happen. What do you fear most in politics? Events, because they can change the course of history.

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'This Is Us' Creator Dan Fogelman Says He Didn't Mean To Make You Cry

Dan Fogelman is the creator of the breakout NBC family drama This Is Us. Producer Kevin Falls, who has worked with Fogelman on previous shows, has coined a term for the twists and monologues that Fogelman sprinkles into scripts: “Fogeldust.”

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When a TV show really connects with viewers, it’s often a lightning-in-a-bottle experience; a collision of talent, material and public mood that is difficult to define. But that hasn’t stopped people from asking Dan Fogelman, the creator of NBC’s supersuccessful family drama This Is Us, this question: How did you pull this off?

Fogelman’s answer: tone, timing and cast.

“There is a form of storytelling — a tone — that lives in between the laugh and the [heavy] emotion,” says Fogelman, noting that This Is Us strikes a balance between the dark stories critics seem to love and the lighter, more populist fare. “If you hit that tone right, it can be everything.”

[Editors’ note: The rest of this story discusses some major plot points, so if you’re not caught up on episodes, you may want to watch before reading further.]

Ron Cephas Jones plays William Hill in This Is Us. “It’s become timely to remind people that love is the key, and not hate and not fear,” he says.

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Cast member Ron Cephas Jones explains the show’s appeal a little differently. Jones played William Hill, a beloved character who was shown dying of cancer in the Feb. 21 episode.

He draws a line between material that an audience can tell is contrived to stir up emotions — Jones calls it “melodrama” — and the feelings that come from identifying with authentic characters, which he says is simply good drama.

And at a time when the news seems filled with stories about political conflict, racism, sexism, fear of immigrants and terrorism and more, Jones notes This Is Us offers a meditation on something different: love.

“It’s become timely to remind people that love is the key, and not hate and not fear,” he says. “The root of everything in the show is about redemption, it’s about forgiveness; it really is about love. And I think that’s what people are longing for. They want to see the richness of love.”

This Is Us has struck a nerve. The show regularly tops ratings on Tuesdays among young viewers — those ages 18 to 49, whom TV advertisers love — and it has already been renewed for a second and third season before its freshman run ends Tuesday. The episode on Feb. 21 drew more than 15 million viewers — NBC’s best numbers in that time slot in 10 years.

And it wasn’t the most obvious hit on network TV. Its pilot episode had a complicated structure, centered on three 36-year-olds and a young couple about to have triplets. Viewers were introduced to Randall, a tightly wound corporate executive who finally tracked down the biological father who gave him up for adoption; Kevin, the star of a dumb, yet successful TV sitcom who wanted a bigger challenge; Kate, Kevin’s sister, who is struggling with obesity and also served as his personal assistant; and the earnest couple Rebecca and Jack Pearson.

It wasn’t until the pilot’s end that viewers learned the twist that changed everything: Jack and Rebecca were parents to Kate, Kevin and Randall. The couple’s moments as young parents in the pilot were flashbacks in time. Randall was a black child adopted into this white family when the Pearsons’ third triplet died during birth.

And William, Ron Cephas Jones’ character, is Randall’s biological father, who left him at a firehouse after realizing his drug addiction made being a good father impossible.

Kevin Falls calls that kind of writing “Fogeldust” — the twists and emotional monologues that Fogelman sprinkles into scripts that elevate his shows. Falls is executive producer and showrunner of the other show Fogelman helped create for network TV last fall, Fox’s Pitch, about the first woman to play on a Major League Baseball team.

“They’re emotional gut punches that T-bone an audience member in the best possible way,” says Falls, who worked directly with Fogelman as the show creator shuttled between the offices of Pitch and This Is Us when both shows were in production. “Every writer manipulates [the audience] … so it is about hiding the strings … not letting you know you’re being manipulated. So when you have that big reveal at the end, the audience doesn’t see it coming.”

[Editors’ note: Speaking of seeing things coming, if you aren’t caught up on Pitch, you’ll want to skip over the next paragraph.]

In Pitch, it’s the moment when we learn that pitcher Ginny Baker’s crusty father — whom we have seen mentor her through the trials of becoming the first female MLB player — is actually dead. Baker is just imagining her father at her side.

For This Is Us, “Fogeldust” moments come at least once an episode, particularly during the emotional conclusion of William’s story, which aired Feb. 21. Welcomed into Randall’s family as he’s dying of cancer, William takes a final trip to Memphis with his son to visit old haunts and wrap up an old family conflict, dying in a local hospital before they can return.

“Dan writes beautiful monologues. … It feels like a play,” says Jones, a veteran of New York’s theater scene. “So scenes have the space to breathe. He’s giving the audience a moment to open themselves up [to what’s happening on-screen].”

That skill in tapping into emotions has led to the most mystifying result for Fogelman: news that scenes from the show regularly make viewers cry.

“If you had said a year ago, ‘Hey Dan, your show is going to be this big success, what do you think everybody’s going to be talking about?’ In a million years, I never would have thought it would be how much they are crying watching the show,” Fogelman says, laughing. “It was not the intent, nor something I expected.”

In fact, Fogelman takes less credit for writing the show than he does for its spot-on casting. He says TV shows in development are often derailed by two problems: Popular actors often refuse to audition for parts, and network TV executives second-guess the casting, refusing to let producers hire the actors they know are right for roles.

But This Is Us was different. Fogelman insisted actors read for parts, and he cast his top choices in every role. That meant hiring hunky Heroes alum Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, though Fogelman originally envisioned a more average-looking actor in a role the executive producer based on himself. Singer Mandy Moore turned out to be a perfect Rebecca for Ventimiglia’s Jack. Jones was hired as William, though the actor admits he is more often cast as criminals or villains than fathers or grandfathers.

Fogelman, however, had no doubts. “I knew the cast was going to kill before we shot a frame [of film],” he adds. “The actors are so truthful, it feels real.”

Known as an inventive writer behind films like Cars and Crazy Stupid Love as well as the TV musical Galavant, Fogelman has found unexpected success in This Is Us. It’s a family drama that bounces around in time, showing the Pearson siblings at different ages and revealing the history of family frictions that shape their current lives.

It has offered affecting, incisive portrayals of Randall’s struggle to handle growing up the only black child raised by a white family, along with Kate’s issues with binge eating, weight and romance. And Randall’s discovery that his mother knew William’s identity and hid it from him until he found his biological father on his own has jolted the series.

There are critics who say the show is too manipulative, that it uses the emotion of powerful moments to paper over inconsistencies in plot or characters’ actions. Or that the show is so focused on delivering stuff for fans to talk about later on social media and elsewhere that it sacrifices nuance.

But it’s tough for a network TV show to completely avoid clunkers over an entire season. And some of the grousing feels a bit like snobbery, as though a network TV show with so many viewers couldn’t possibly offer dramatic quality, too.

Fogelman promises the show’s season finale has more dark moments, in which characters viewers have come to love will make bad choices that could test the allegiance of fans. But the drama of watching people with the best intentions occasionally make the worst decisions could be the secret sauce powering This Is Us‘ success.

“What I think the show might be appealing to is that person who wakes up every day determined to be a better person … and probably fails 99 percent of the time,” Fogelman says. “[They go] to sleep that night bummed out that they didn’t do better and wake up the next day determined to do it again. Regardless of politics … everybody’s living the same existence where you’re trying to live better and do better. How we get there is what’s up for debate.”

Editor Nina Gregory contributed to this report.

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Planned Parenthood Would Lose $178 Million In Payments Under GOP Health Plan

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, says the health care provider takes in about $400 million per year in reimbursements under Medicaid and other federal programs.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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The proposed American Health Insurance Act targets the health provider Planned Parenthood with a set of proposed limits on Medicaid payments to the organization.

Yesterday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed the magnitude of those limits. The Republican plan would block $178 million in Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood in 2017.

“The vast majority of our patients are on some kind of federal program,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told NPR’s Ari Shapiro on Tuesday.

In all, she said about 1.6 million patients receive health care from the organization each year through federal programs such as Medicaid, totaling upwards of $400 million in federal reimbursements each year.

“Planned Parenthood operates just like every other health care provider in this country that provides abortion services. We get reimbursed for preventive care,” she explained.

“I guess if you want to reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion, the last thing you should do is try to deny women the access to family planning,” Richards said.

Tom Glessner, the president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which lobbies against abortion, is optimistic about the projected savings for the federal government.

“On the positive side, taxpayers benefit from this provision,” he told NPR.
“Taxpayers would spend $156 million fewer dollars over a decade by defunding Planned Parenthood, even if women used more Medicaid dollars during their pregnancies.”

Glessner was referring to the increase in births the CBO projects if Medicaid patients are cut off from Planned Parenthood. The costs associated with about 45 percent of all births in the U.S. are paid for by the Medicaid program.

“In the one-year period in which federal funds for Planned Parenthood would be prohibited under the legislation, the number of births in the Medicaid program would increase by several thousand, increasing direct spending for Medicaid by $21 million in 2017,” the CBO report notes.

The Republican plan technically only cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. If the organization stops providing abortions, it will be eligible for Medicaid reimbursements again. But Richards said there is no chance that will happen.

“We provide full reproductive health care for people in this country,” she said. “And even though abortions may make up a small portion of what we do, women and families and young people come to Planned Parenthood because they count on us to be on their side, and to provide them with health care they need.”

Federal spending on abortions is already illegal, except in the case of pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother, as NPR has reported.

Republican lawmakers and some clinicians have said that if Planned Parenthood closes clinics, other health providers would try to take on those patients. But community health clinics say they are already overburdened.

The Republican plan currently calls for tens of billions of dollars for states to spend as they see fit, including spending it on preventive care for women.

“How will the states use that money? They have great flexibility,” Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and current president of the conservative think tank The American Action Forum told NPR’s Ari Shapiro on Tuesday.

“They can give it to insurers as reinsurance for expensive patients, they can give it directly to individuals to cover out-of-pocket costs, they can create a variety of other programs like high risk pools for expensive patients.”

But Richards argued that spending would need to address a supply problem in rural or poor communities.

“The public health community has been abundantly clear that they cannot absorb the 2.5 million patients that Planned Parenthood sees each year,” she said. “And particularly for women who have found a lump in their breast or need birth control immediately, and maybe a community health center can see them in a month or two months, that’s not good enough.”

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