TIME Education

5 Things I Learned From Writing Other People’s College Essays for Money

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"I didn’t charge enough"

xojane

The year 2009 was a year of big changes for me. I graduated with my M.A. in Professional Writing. My husband and I moved across the country from Georgia to California. And the economy fell off a cliff.

I know what you’re thinking. Someone with a degree in “Professional Writing” should probably expect to have a hard time finding a job regardless of what’s happening in the economy, but I swear I thought this out.

Graduate school gave me tangible skills with classes in document design and editing. I had a great experience and you should all shake your heads sadly and learn from my choices.

I wasn’t worried because I have had a job since I was 15. So what if nobody’s hiring? Convenience store, call center, restaurant, doesn’t matter. I’ve worked them all and I have no shame.

After a few weeks I realized just how competitive the job market actually is in Los Angeles. Restaurants asked for head shots with my application. My master’s degree made every retail store give me the side eye. I was suddenly unqualified and overqualified for everything.

Aside from being underemployed, I quickly learned that LA is a super expensive city. Like $7 for a domestic draft beer expensive. My part-time job and unpaid internship kept me firmly at home watching television and eating ramen noodles every night while interest added up on my student loans.

My husband suggested that maybe I could make some money offering college students help with their college essays. Sure! After 19 years of school, I was definitely qualified to help someone with their homework.

I put together a Craigslist ad detailing my credentials and the responses started rolling in. But instead of “Could you edit my paper?” I was getting “Hey, just do my assignment” or “Could you take my online class?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so from 2009 to 2013 I wrote dozens of papers and took several online classes. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. People who buy papers come from every walk of life.

It’s easy to assume that all students who buy papers are 20-somethings using mom and dad’s money so they can spend more time being hungover. Sure, there are plenty of those, and those are the ones who were the most demanding and difficult to work with. 20 pages by tomorrow? I’m not a wizard, kid.

But aside from the ne’er do wells, there were non-traditional students who were having a rough time balancing work, family, and a full class load. These students often expressed a lot of guilt, and I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure they were under.

Finally, there were those who were simply overwhelmed and unable to do college level work. Students who bought papers from me went to community college, online programs, USC, and UCLA.

2. I didn’t charge enough.

I loved school, and I even had fun doing a lot of the assignments. Who has two thumbs and had a great time researching a paper about the religious symbolism in the movie Groundhog Day? This gal.

But I also cared too much. I got the same worried knot in the pit of my stomach every time an assignment was due, and I stressed over the work as if I were the one getting the grade. If I had to do it over again I would realize that $75 for a four-page paper that required research and MLA formatting was practically giving it away.

3. You probably won’t get caught.

In the beginning, I would tell students that it would be a good idea to take the paper I wrote and put it in their own words. You’d think it would be a glaring issue for a student who’s had trouble the entire semester to turn in an “A” paper that doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve written. You’d be wrong.

I know a handful of adjunct professors, and as long as the paper is original (meaning chunks of the writing isn’t being recycled from other papers or online sources) they often don’t have the time or support of the administration to accuse someone of plagiarism. I would also add that they don’t get paid enough to weed out people buying papers, but that’s another essay.

4. You really are only cheating yourself.

Do I feel guilty? A little, but mostly for the other students who are working hard and giving it “the old college try” and getting lumped in with people who are buying assignments. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.

People who avoid work in college will find other ways to get through life and it will either catch up with them, or they will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to find people to do their work.

5. We should really stop herding people into college.

I can’t tell you how many students couldn’t compose a simple email that told me what their assignment was and when it was due. Red flag right? Not for “for profit” colleges it isn’t. You got a pulse and qualify for student loans? You’re in!

These students lack basic skills and aren’t ready for college, but that doesn’t stop schools from signing them up for thousands of dollars in student debt. These institutions have much lower graduation rates than the national average and students from for-profit colleges are much more likely to default on their student loans. It’s still a tough economy out there and most of these folks will end up in the same position I was in 2009 — but without the skills to do other people’s homework for cash.

Beth Seaver wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

This Stuffed Tiger Had the Adventure of a Lifetime While Lost in an Airport

Tampa International Airport

"The days are just packed," as the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip says

When a 6-year-old boy named Owen Lake accidentally left his beloved stuffed tiger Hobbes at Tampa International Airport Saturday morning, airport officials found it and produced a scrapbook of photos showing the toy posing in different parts of the facility. The scrapbook was then presented to the boy’s family when they returned from a trip to Houston.

In a statement, Tony D’Aiuto, the airport operations center manager, said he reassured Owen’s mother Amanda Lake that the toy was “on an adventure,” which included hanging out “outside by the air traffic control tower, buying gelato, working out at the employee gym, playing Jenga in the USO, hanging out with the firefighters, napping in a hammock by the Marriott pool, riding a luggage cart.”

The photos brought the boy’s mother to tears. “It was very, very sweet,” she said. “It was nice to get back and show him that Hobbes really had been on an adventure.”

TIME Culture

The Art and Science of Doing Nothing

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Also known as 'leisure'

Leisure or as some call it, the art and science of doing nothing. It’s something we all want yet rarely have.

Our modern workplace culture prides itself on filling every one of our minutes, even if it’s all for show. Yet leisure is necessary for insight, which is a key component in today’s knowledge economy.

Far from being the result of productive labour, for the knowledge worker, leisure is a necessary part of the labour. While it may seem non-productive, that is only looking at it from one angle.

In this excerpt, from The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen defines leisure as the “nonproductive consumption of time.”

The term leisure, as I use it, does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is nonproductive consumption of time. Time is consumed nonproductively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. But the whole of the life of the gentleman of leisure is not spent before the eyes of the spectators who are to be impressed with that spectacle of honorific leisure which in the ideal scheme makes up his life. For some part of the time his life is perforce withdrawn from the public eye, and of this portion which is spent in private the gentleman of leisure should, for the sake of his good name, be able to give a convincing account. He should find some means of putting in evidence the leisure that is not spent in the sight of the spectators. This can be done only indirectly, through the exhibition of some tangible, lasting results of the leisure so spent—in a manner analogous to the familiar exhibition of tangible, lasting products of the labor performed for the gentleman of leisure by handicraftsmen and servants in his employ.

The lasting evidence of productive labor is its material product—commonly some article of consumption. In the case of exploit it is similarly possible and usual to procure some tangible result that may serve for exhibition in the way of trophy or booty. At a later phase of the development it is customary to assume some badge or insignia of honor that will serve as a conventionally accepted mark of exploit, and which at the same time indicates the quantity or degree of exploit of which it is the symbol. As the population increases in density and as human relations grow more complex and numerous, all the details of life undergo a process of elaboration and selection; and in this process of elaboration the use of trophies develops into a system of rank, titles, degrees, and insignia, typical examples of which are heraldic devices, medals, and honorary decorations.

As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit, and the achievements which characterize a life of leisure, and which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit. But leisure in the narrower sense, as distinct from exploit and from any ostensibly productive employment of effort on objects which are of no intrinsic use, does not commonly leave a material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of “immaterial” goods. Such immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. So, for instance, in our time there is the knowledge of the dead languages and the occult sciences, of correct spelling, of syntax and prosody, of the various forms of domestic music and other household arts, of the latest proprieties of dress, furniture, and equipage, of games, sports, and fancy bred animals such as dogs and racehorses. In all these branches of knowledge the initial motive from which their acquisition proceeded at the outset, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one’s time had not been spent in industrial employment, but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an un productive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.

(h/t Lampham’s Quarterly)

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Check Out This University’s Special Staircase for People Texting

Utah Valley University Marketing & Communications

This is your fault

Utah’s largest public university is attempting to teach students to watch where they’re going by designating a special lane for people who text while walking up stairs.

Since June 7, a staircase at Utah Valley University’s new student center building in Orem has boasted a “texting lane,” though the school’s creative director Matt Bambrough acknowledges it is meant to be an art project, as opposed to an official school policy. In a statement, he even admits, “Most people don’t obey the posted lanes.”

Past parodies of distracted pedestrians have included a street lane in Chongqing, China, for texting tourists and Improv Everywhere’s stunt in which pranksters dressed up as “Seeing Eye People” who guided New Yorkers glued to their phones.

TIME U.S.

Minnesota Teen Dies After Complications During Wisdom Teeth Removal

Sydney Galleger went into cardiac arrest at the end of the extraction procedure

What started as a routine visit by a teen to her dentist to have her wisdom teeth removed has turned into a tragedy for an Eden Prairie, Minnesota, family.

Sydney Galleger, 17, died on Monday at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, one week after going into cardiac arrest at the end of her extraction procedure, her mother, Diane Galleger, wrote on Caring Bridge’s website yesterday.

“We have all been blessed to have been touched by Sydney in one way or another,” Galleger wrote in a heartfelt letter to supporters. “Her faith was strong, her heart was big, her laughter was infectious and her smile could light up a room.”

Near the end of her June 2 dental procedure, Sydney’s blood pressure suddenly shot up and her pulse dropped, sending her into cardiac arrest.

The doctor quickly started CPR and dialed 911, then she “was immediately rushed to the hospital where more doctors and nurses than I could even count, started working on her,” her mother said.

An operation to reduce swelling on her daughter’s brain two days later proved unsuccessful and doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do.

“We want to rewind to (June 1) when we had our happy, healthy, funny, beautiful 17-year-old daughter,” Galleger wrote in a post on Friday after the hospital surgery. “We can’t comprehend it yet and we’re not sure when we will.”

Gallleger described Sydney as a “cool cousin” to her nieces and nephew, who loved to sleep with her ragdoll cat, Sparky, and the family’s black lab, Addie. “We will miss seeing her behind the wheel of her red Jeep Liberty that she nicknamed ‘Libby,’ Galleger wrote on Monday. Her daughter, who had chosen to be an organ donor, “was a loyal and true friend to all.”

Sydney was a member of the Eden Prairie girls’ lacrosse team, who also enjoyed diving, swimming and alpine skiing, Galleger added. On Saturday, friends on her lacrosse team tied blue ribbons in their hair in honor of Sydney and captured their third state championship in double-overtime in her honor.

“I was pushing to win for Sydney,” junior midfielder Kelly Wolfe, who scored the game-winning goal, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Funeral services for the teen will be held on Saturday.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME society

Here’s What Jon Stewart Has to Say About Rachel Dolezal

"Whaaaaat???!!"

Of course Jon Stewart was going to weigh in on the saga of Rachel Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, who stepped down after her parents publicly revealed that she’d been misrepresenting her race.

Dolezal has been portraying herself as African-America for a decade, but as her parents revealed, she’s actually of Czech, Swedish and German descent. Or, as Jon Stewart calls it: “really f—king white.”

But the Daily Show host doesn’t just mock Dolezal herself, he also calls out Fox News for attempting to connect this one isolated incident to the wider political landscape.

“How do you make all these sweeping generalizations about it anyway?” Stewart said. “One lady in Washington State’s second-largest city pretending to be black: ‘Well, clearly liberal culture has reached its nadir.'”

To further discuss the story, Stewart turns to his “senior black correspondent,” who turns out to be the very white Jordan Klepper.

Read next: Rachel Dolezal Breaks Silence: ‘I Identify as Black’

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME society

There’s No Such Thing As a Spill-Proof Way to Transport Oil

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Even the world's first long-distance pipeline that crossed the Alleghenies in 1879 was prone to accidents and sabotage

To a historian of pipelines, last month’s Santa Barbara oil spill is a reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Since their first introduction in the late 19th century, pipelines have leaked regularly and ruptured occasionally. While it’s true that improved technology and regulation have reduced spills significantly—much like flying today is far safer than in the early years of commercial aviation—the fact remains that there exists no such thing as a spill-proof pipeline. Recognizing this historical reality is crucial to crafting future policy.

Long-distance pipelines were developed in the late 19th century to compete with railroads for the conveyance of crude oil. The problem in the 1870s was not that railroads lacked sufficient capacity to carry oil or that they spilled unacceptable amounts (though they did, to be sure, leak considerably). Rather, the problem had a name: John D. Rockefeller. He’d built his Standard Oil empire by using bulk shipments to negotiate better rates on his oil deliveries than any of his competitors. By controlling railroad shipments, Rockefeller controlled the industry. Pipeline pioneers hoped that creating an alternative transport system would turn the tide in their favor. As a result, these pioneers cared primarily about two things: cost and competition. As long as small spills did not dramatically reduce profitability, environmental safety wasn’t high on their list of priorities, to put it mildly.

Long-distance pipeline dreams first became reality in 1879 in Pennsylvania. Led by Byron Benson and a group of colleagues unaffiliated with Standard Oil, the Tide-Water Pipeline represented a remarkable technological achievement that can be compared to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge a few years later. The project was so audacious that skeptical observers dubbed it “Benson’s Folly.” From January to May of 1879, scores of men and horses hauled thousands of tons of pipes through the wilderness of the Allegheny Mountains to complete the 106-mile route. Engineers designed new pumps capable of pushing the oil over an 1,100-foot elevation gain without exceeding the pressure limits of the cast-iron pipes. Most significantly, Benson and his team overcame intense competitive threats such as armed teams ripping up pipes and fraudulent land claims organized by Rockefeller and his railroad allies.

Excitement in western Pennsylvania ran high on May 28, 1879, when the pipeline operators started the great pumps and inserted oil into the lines. The oil moved at a slow pace of about a half-a-mile per hour and several people began walking along with the oil. But within two days, the pressure in the pipes rose rapidly and the pumps had to be stopped. A crew opened the pipeline and discovered some pieces of wood and rope stuck inside the line. Company officials suspected sabotage, but could not rule out careless workers. Though company reports do not mention the amount of oil lost, there is no doubt that significant quantities of oil flowed onto the ground when the pipes were opened. Even before the first oil reached the end of the pipeline, therefore, a spill had occurred.

With the obstacles removed, the pumps turned back on and the oil began moving again. On the evening of June 4, a large crowd gathered in Williamsport. At around 7:20, the pipes released a strange whooshing noise and oil soon began to flow into the collecting tanks below. People filled souvenir bottles with the oil and newspapers report that a “spirited celebration” followed. The era of pipelines had begun.

Once pipeline technology had been proven, Rockefeller quickly moved to build his own extensive network. Within five years, he had reasserted his dominance of oil transport, though now more than three-quarters of oil traveled through pipes rather than on rails. Like the Tide-Water, Rockefeller’s early pipelines exhibited a pattern of slow and steady leaks punctuated by dramatic bursts. Small leaks caused by poorly sealed joints or defects in the cast-iron pipes were so common that they rarely appear in the historical record. More consequential leaks obtained brief newspaper mention but little call for change in industry practice. In March 1885, for example, one of Standard Oil’s pipelines burst on a farmer’s property. Sparks from a locomotive ignited the oil leading newspapers to describe “a terrific conflagration [that] raged for 20 hours.” Just over one year later, the same pipeline ruptured resulting in “farms deluged with oil and huge bonfires of crude petroleum burning for three days.”

Why did early pipelines fail so often? In part, because oil spills were endemic to all aspects of the industry. At the time the Tide-Water Pipeline was under construction, oil producers in western Pennsylvania were spilling an estimated 5,000 to 12,000 barrels of oil every day as gushing wells spewed petroleum before they could be capped and hastily erected storage tanks leaked steadily. To put this into context, the equivalent amount of oil lost in the 1986 Exxon Valdez disaster was spilled every month in western Pennsylvania. At oil refineries, residual traces of petroleum that could not be sold as products were frequently dumped into nearby rivers. For most in the loosely regulated early days of the oil industry, spilling some oil here and there was far more profitable than investing in the expensive technology necessary to control a finicky liquid.

Over time, pipelines have become more reliable, featuring better welding of their joints along with extensive monitoring systems. However, the development and implementation of these technologies has rarely happened on its own; in most cases, regulations and public pressure have been necessary to spur change. Without strong penalties, it is cheaper for companies to allow small leaks than to build better pipelines.

Yet despite improvement, pipelines remain imperfect. In the United States, a pipeline spill occurs nearly every day, with over 1,400 accidents in America between 2010 and 2013. Historian Sean Kheraj has recently demonstrated that even a pipeline that has operated with a 99.999 percent success rate in Canada has averaged a spill-and-a-half a year and discharged about 5.8 million liters of oil over the past 40 years. A very low failure rate (one likely to be understated as it relies so heavily on self-reporting by leakers), therefore, can still produce heavy environmental damage.

How, then, should we think about pipeline spills? One option is to consider reverting to shipping oil by railroad. As it turns out, such an experiment is underway. The shale oil boom in places such as North Dakota has recently generated large increases in petroleum production at sites with little pipeline infrastructure. Much of this oil is traveling by railroad, and the environmental consequences have been mixed. Several high-profile derailments and explosions have demonstrated that railroads—particularly those operating on old tracks—create similar risks as pipelines. Accidents are more common on railroads than pipelines, though the average quantity of oil lost is much higher in pipeline incidents than on railroads. Neither system is perfect.

Regardless of whether shipped by pipeline or railroad, a clear historical lesson is that greater public scrutiny and regulation of oil transporters reduces the frequency and severity of spills. Citizens are well within their rights to insist that government agencies require pipeline companies to do better.

But this is not all. Simply demonizing pipeline operators for their spills is a convenient way for citizens to ignore their complicity in environmental degradation. Oil is transported in such massive quantities because the vast majority of Americans demand to use it regularly. Our everyday actions, including driving cars and surrounding ourselves with plastics, undergird a world in which pipelines appear as a ubiquitous feature of our landscapes.

There’s a parallel here to another liquid Southern Californians—and many of us throughout the Southwest—have to import to ensure survival and economic prosperity: water. Most of us are aware that our choices as water consumers—to move to arid lands, water lawns, and support a massive agricultural industry in formerly dry areas.—aggravates the tightness of water supplies and contributes to our recurring droughts. It would be good to think similarly about all that oil coursing into our region’s veins, and become more serious about cutting back on our consumption.

Christopher F. Jones is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. He is the author of Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

I Feel Ashamed to Tell Others That I Am Republican

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

A misunderstanding of a political ideology can leave people feeling like outcasts in society

xojane

Like every stringy-haired, freckle-faced girl, middle school wasn’t exactly a haven of bliss for me. I’m not sure if it was my dirty no-brand tennis shoes or my ill-fitting mom jeans, but I was never invited to sit at the cool kids table.

Ever the realist, I decided not to push my luck with the popular crowd and instead resigned myself to bus rides spent reading and doing homework. It was during that time of solitude that I fell in love. Not with a boy. Not with a girl. But with politics. I buried my nose in my history books and relished the idea of a society where hierarchy wasn’t determined by birthright or the type of shoes you wore. Instead, everyone was born equal and treated equally. It was at this point that my life course was decided: I wanted to work in politics.

So like any other Type-A child, I dedicated my spare time to ensuring my success by signing up for extracurricular online classes in AP Government and Latin, memorizing the map of the world and the capital of each country, and even skipping school on Election Day in order to volunteer at the local call center.

Years later, my persistence paid off. I landed a scholarship at one of the most prestigious liberal arts schools in the country and graduated with my Bachelor’s in Political Science. By the time I was 23, I had already staffed a presidential campaign and was working on Capitol Hill as the press secretary of a prominent congressman.

My mornings started with a 5:30 am workout in the Capitol Hill staff gym, followed by a relaxing shower and scrub with my lemon bar soap. Toweling off there in the restroom, I’d take a look at myself and smile, thinking of how much the awkward 11-year-old girl from middle school had changed. I was no longer just dreaming of having a place in the political world. Now, I actually did. The sacrifices I had to make to get there were hard, but it was worth it. And I was proud of myself.

However, my confident world came crashing down at a friend’s 24th birthday party. Between cinnamon roll shots and bites from the turkey and cheese platter, the group’s conversation turned from the latest gossip toward the concept of blowing off steam from a stressful workweek. Nothing prepared me for the reaction I received when I uttered the six words, “I work for a Republican congressman.”

My new gay acquaintance, with whom I had been chatting the whole night, abruptly cleared his throat and walked away, while the remaining party guests who heard my comment bombarded me with a series of assumptions and questions, like how could I vote for Sarah Palin, why I was in favor of global warming, and whether I considered myself a feminist even though I’m against women’s rights. In the conversation that followed, my confidence evaporated, and I was reduced back to the stringy-haired, freckle-faced kid of middle school.

I was no longer the poised, accomplished woman I was 15 minutes before. Instead, I felt like a mortified child who just got ejected from the cool kids table.

With the prevalence of social media, constituents have a more hands-on interaction with politics than ever before. News articles from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times can be posted on private Facebook walls, e-mails can be leaked, candidate’s conversations can be secretly recorded and then released to the masses. There is no lack of information, but rather a surplus of opinion. Unfortunately, those who scream the loudest are heard the most—a reality that is leaving our nation more polarized than ever before.

Libel and slander have become socially acceptable as we isolate one another in an attempt to garner more votes. I won’t even dare to claim that only one party is to blame for the propagation of lies and falsehoods. However, I have experienced first-hand how a misunderstanding of a political ideology can leave people feeling like outcasts in society.

Although I’m proud of my accomplishments, when I’m in a crowded room with new faces, I secretly hope nobody asks me about my work background. I hold my breath as I admit that I work in politics and wait for the inevitable question of, “For which party?”

Being a staffer in the Republican Party isn’t exactly the sexiest job title, but what makes me cringe is knowing that somebody is assessing who I am as a person based off my business card. I’m proud of my career and believe in my Party, but I’m ashamed to admit to my peers that I’m a Republican because of the stigma associated with it.

Why does everyone assume that all conservatives are homosexual hating, gun-toting Tea Partiers who demand President Obama’s birth certificate? At what point did the Republican Party become classified as the rich white people party?

Are we all ignorant of the true roots of the Republican party—how we are a political group that favors laissez-faire economic policies rather than government regulation; how we support corporate tax breaks that lead to job creation in place of stronger entitlements; how we believe in equality for every American, even the Americans still within their mothers’ wombs?

Contrary to popular thought, not every conservative is against same-sex marriage and not every liberal is in favor of signing nuclear deals with Iran. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is vital in a democratic society to encourage open conversation and debate rather than pigeonholing people into assumed beliefs.

So allow me to start the conversation by debunking some partisan myths. I’ll admit that I am similar to other conservatives in that I am an advocate for limited government, energy independence and entitlement program reform. However, I do hold a few beliefs that aren’t held by other members in my party.

For one, capital punishment. Call me a softie, but I’m not a fan of the flawed human race having the capability and authorization to sentence one another to death. Besides, I find the judicial process imbalanced in several states. Although 42% of death row inmates are black and 43% are white, cases involving white victims rather than black victims are significantly more likely to result in a death sentence—an impartiality that I find unethical.

“Gun control”: the two scariest words to conservatives. As a born and bred Southern girl, I’m in favor of protecting our Second Amendment rights. However, gun control and regulation are two totally different things. The prevalence of guns that are bought and sold illegally at gun shows is staggering. Each state has different laws regarding gun sales, licensing and concealment. However, the horrific number of shootings in recent years has made additional conversation regarding arms registration and licensing imperative. It isn’t an issue that we should shy away from.

Undoubtedly, the beliefs of individuals don’t always fall within the dogmas of party lines. Therefore, not every political issue is black and white, nor is every political party segmented by skin color. Contrary to popular belief, the Republican Party is not comprised solely of white Americans. In 2014, I worked as the campaign manager for an incredible Congressional candidate, Glo Smith. A Jacksonville, Florida native, Glo was a gorgeous kind-hearted non-career politician running for Congress in a primarily black district. Going door to door during the campaign, our volunteers were astonished by the number of constituents who assumed Glo was running on the Democratic ticket simply because she was a black woman.

The Republican Party is not a party of exclusion and isolation any more than the Democratic Party is a party of entitlement or marginalization. There are plenty of black American Republicans just as there are copious amount of white Democrats. There are also old Libertarians and young Tea Partiers as well as wealthy individuals in favor of higher tax brackets and low-income citizens in favor of Social Security reform.

So let’s stop segregating one another with labels and assumptions. Instead, let’s allow the bright reds and deep blues of the political parties to fall to the ground as we enter an election cycle not wrought with ideological hatred, but with a willingness to listen and hear the voices of others.

Brittany Tony wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

This Is What Gay Marriage and Obamacare Have in Common

Two cases before the Supreme Court point to the long-running battle between state rights and federal authority

I don’t drink champagne, but if the Supreme Court strikes down state bans on gay marriages this month, I might pop open a bottle in celebration. As a newspaper editorial writer and editor, I’ve been waiting a long time for this one, having fought two publisher bosses in two different cities, going back to the mid-1990s, to editorialize in favor of gay marriage. I won the second fight, but barely, at The Los Angeles Times, some nine years ago.

A Court decision that relies on our federal constitution to legalize gay marriage across the country would be a triumph for individual liberty, common sense, and human decency. It would also amount to a well-deserved blow against that most persistent of villains throughout American history: the destructive creed of state rights and state sovereignty.

That same creed is at issue in the Obamacare case that is also expected to be decided this month, as the Court concludes its current term. At first glance, the Affordable Care Act and the institution of gay marriage don’t seem to have much in common as litigation subjects, but this case, too, is as much about the proper relationship between the states and the federal government as it is about anything else – which is true of so many of our political and legal fights these days.

King v. Burwell, the Obamacare decision, is a fluke of a case, an opportunity for opponents of the law to take another swing at the piñata (which they damaged, but did not break it in an earlier challenge) by capitalizing on some careless legislative drafting. The law allows the federal government to provide subsidies to lower-income insurance customers who sign up for coverage on the new exchanges “established by the state.” Trouble is, pursuant to other sections of the law, it was the federal government that ended up establishing an exchange for those states that refused to establish their own – and no one involved in drafting the law intended for its patients to be denied the same subsidies available to people signing up for coverage on a state-created exchange. Now, in their feverish desire to interfere with the relationship between American citizens and their national government, opponents of the law are hoping the Supreme Court will cut off 8 million people from the support and coverage they are receiving.

As we await these landmark decisions that are so of the moment, it’s worth reading Joseph J. Ellis’s new book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution 1783-1789. It’s a masterful reminder of how timeless this tension is between the concept of the United States as a singular nation and the United States as merely a confederation of sovereign states.

Ellis chronicles how four of our more visionary Founding Fathers – George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison – recognized from the earliest days after independence that the individual states, and the excessive power retained by them under the loose Articles of Confederation, were a serious threat to the promise of the American Revolution.

Hence this influential “quartet” pushed for the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Washington’s greatness lay in the fact that, from his earliest days leading the Continental Army, he transcended his narrow identification with Virginia, to think more broadly in terms of an American nation. He came out of self-imposed retirement to lend his enormous credibility to the Philadelphia proceedings. Washington wrote at the time (in what can be read as a challenge to pro-confederation Virginians then, but also to Virginia Confederates who’d secede from the Union in the following century): “We are either a United people or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation… If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.”

Ellis captures the rare brilliance and admirable foresight of Washington’s three intellectual partners in this quest – Jay, Hamilton, and the first president’s fellow Virginian, Madison. All three men had a clear vision of an America destined to be a unique power in the world, defined by its collective sense of purpose and its citizens’ liberty. They understood that to survive, and thrive, as a continental power, the United States needed a stronger national government representing, and protecting, all of its people.

Madison, often cited as the father of the Constitution, lost plenty of battles at Philadelphia, starting with his bedrock insistence that sovereign power be shifted entirely from the states to the central government. Madison gave up on what he initially considered his non-negotiable demand for a federal veto power over state laws, as he would later have to surrender on his proposal that some of the Bill of Rights also limit the power of states. Though the closest of political partners at other times, Madison and Jefferson disagreed vehemently over whether it was state governments or the new federal government that would be the biggest threat to individual liberty and rights, and history has proven Jefferson spectacularly wrong in that debate. It’s hard to blame him: Madison’s (and Hamilton’s) belief that the larger, more distant national government could be a more representative embodiment of “We the People” was a very modern concept.

But being so ahead of their time limited The Quartet’s contemporary success. They were able to remedy the immediate flaws of the Articles of Confederation, bind the new nation closer together and set it on the right course, but their new Constitution, by political necessity, was riddled with fraught compromises – such as the electoral college and the equal vote of each state in the Senate – whose underlying tensions would define much of American history.

Abraham Lincoln ratified and reinvigorated the Quartet’s accomplishment to the point where he deserves to join Ellis’ crew, and make it a Quintet. The Civil War and its aftermath – especially the 14th Amendment on which the gay marriage case should hinge – delivered on the Madisonian concept of a federal government empowered to protect citizens – especially minorities – from the bullying of local and state authorities (i.e., majorities). But that doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Nowadays we don’t often think about these federalist debates that have haunted our history, because we are too busy – and this goes for both conservatives and liberals – gaming the tension between Washington and state capitals. Even within the gay marriage legal fights over the last decade, both sides have taken turns, depending on the prevailing winds, arguing in favor of a state’s right to define marriage for itself, damned what the rest of the country thinks.

Too rarely do we ask ourselves the more fundamental question of whether we are citizens of California or Texas – or the United States? If the Quartet had invented a time machine and paid us a visit, they’d be astonished at the resilience of the state sovereignty creed, despite all we’ve been through as a nation. Too many Americans stubbornly cling to the belief that the United States is a confederation in which citizens’ fundamental rights – on issues like marriage, access to baseline health care, and what is taught in their public schools – can and should vary across state lines, to accommodate local biases.

Let’s hope in the coming days and weeks that five such Americans aren’t sitting on the Supreme Court.

Andrés Martinez is the editorial director of Zócalo Public Square and a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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