header image at National Organization For Women: Greater Grand Rapids Chapter (NOWGR)

Grand Rapids Provides Free Safety Escort Service

IMG_2021 Written by Kristen Murphey

Grand Rapids friends: Have you ever felt unsafe walking downtown by yourself, whether you are headed someplace with your friends, going to your car, or walking home? Has there ever been a time where you were out and about, and witnessed something that made you uncomfortable, or someone who you thought may have needed help? We have all been there, and one too many times may have thought to ourselves, I sure wish I had a helping hand right about now.

Well, have you noticed the teal and navy-uniformed Downtown Grand Rapids Safety Ambassadors on patrol downtown? These men and women have been extensively trained to provide a variety of services; from offering a helping hand or giving directions, to assisting in crime prevention, to responding to first aid needs. Their work is funded by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., as a means of providing a safe and enjoyable downtown atmosphere. This program is an incredible resource for the citizens of Grand Rapids that may undoubtedly lead to a better quality of life for all of us here in the city.

In addition to their visible patrols, if you are downtown (loosely bounded by I-196, Lafayette Ave, Wealthy Street and Seward Ave, refer to this online map for details), and would like an escorted walk to a safe location downtown, the safety ambassadors provide this service. And it’s free! An Ambassador can meet you and walk with you to a safe building or method of transportation, or they can simply stand with you while you wait for a ride.


The Downtown Grand Rapids Safety Ambassadors are available during the following hours:

• Monday – Wednesday: 7am-11pm

• Thursday—Friday: 7am – 3am

• Saturday: 2:30pm-3am

To arrange an escorted walk, call (616) 250-8263 and an Ambassador will be dispatched to your location, typically arriving within 5-10 minutes.

Please keep in mind that if you are intoxicated, Ambassadors are more than happy to help you arrange a ride with a taxi or friend, but will notify the Grand Rapids Police if you drive. Let’s all do our part and keep the roads safe! Finally, please note that the purpose of the Downtown Safety Ambassador program is not law enforcement. In the event of an emergency, call 911.

For more information, view or download the Safety Ambassador pamphlet online.

August 8th, 2014 | Published in Action, Free

Breastfeeding as a Feminist Issue

normalize nursing

Written by Jessica Krebs

(Artwork by @Amanda Greavette)

“I am an advocate of ‘indiscreet’ breastfeeding – the more that people see babies at the breast, the more ‘normal’ it will be.”  (Jack Newman)


We are at the end of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), and I’ve been contemplating a lot around the issue of public breastfeeding and what it means in the broader context of our culture. In order to fully understand the negative attitudes around breastfeeding and how we can shift towards a normalization of public nursing, we need to take a step back first. Girls are sexualized from an early age, yet are also told to dress, act, and speak modestly. As little girls grow up, they see images in the media of other young women wearing revealing outfits, go to the store to buy clothes that aren’t considered modest by our society’s standards (yet are still mass produced as an option for purchase), and attend school with a dress code that is wildly discriminatory towards young girls. Yet, women aren’t allowed to wear revealing clothing in public or tank tops to school because we deem it inappropriate and sexual.

As these young women grow older they are told not to sleep around or take pleasure in sex, yet through commercials, advertisements, billboards, television shows, and movies we consistently see women portrayed as sexual beings – albeit through the male gaze, but sexual beings nonetheless. Women of all ages are catcalled and sexually harassed in the street, in the workplace, at home, and any other place you can imagine. And more often than not, women’s breasts are the focal point of such sexual objectification and harassment.

The Modesty Doctrine is a belief that in order to prevent men from being sexually attracted to and distracted by women (since sexual attraction is a sin, if you’re religious), women must cover their bodies and remain modest at all times. This mindset is especially dangerous and helps fuel a dangerous rape culture. An example is the belief that women should be held accountable for men’s lust towards women’s bodies, and therefore when a woman is sexually assaulted, then it must be her fault for not doing more to evade such non-consensual behavior.

So, how does this tie into breastfeeding? A woman’s inherent sexuality is more than her breasts. But when it comes to nursing her own child, breastfeeding is often seen as inappropriate, dirty, and immodest because of the way that we view and perceive women as hyper-sexualized beings. For example, we expect women to leave the room to nurse, or at the very least, completely cover up in the most discreet way possible as to avoid any possible level of discomfort or lust among anyone who may be nearby. Looking at breastfeeding through a sociocultural context, attitudes towards breastfeeding are deeply tied to cultural beliefs about women, ownership of women’s bodies, and women’s bodily autonomy.

nursing hyp

A woman’s choice of when and where to feed her own child (so, whenever the baby is hungry) should not be determined by location or company. To say that a woman cannot breastfeed if it is not in private is saying that women are only to be treated as sexual objects. Liz Ranfeld discusses nursing in public on her blog, Living and Parenting as a Liberal Feminist Christian; one woman shot looks of disapproval and Ranfeld cues an incredible spot-on response: “I’m sorry that you were so bothered by this that you had to send me death glares the rest of the time you were there. That last one, the one you gave me as you were leaving and walking by, the one that was the most hateful of all them—that was especially my fault, because well. I’m a lady. I should know better than to get my boobs out in public and use them for what they’re for.”

It is a woman’s personal choice whether or not she wants to breastfeed her children, and some women may not have the ability to do so at all. However, if she chooses to do so, she should have the full bodily autonomy, responsibility, and choice to do so when and where she wants. Nursing a child in public should be a legal right, and there should also be available and accessible locations for women to go in the case that the mother chooses to nurse privately. Believe it or not, women’s breasts are actually a part of the body used for nourishment and feeding their babies, and not as sexual objects. Women’s bodies are strong, productive, and life-giving. They should be celebrated! Rejoiced! Shouldn’t it finally be time to end the shame around women’s bodies, sexuality, and reproductive choice – and create a radical shift in our culture that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable enough to nurse without discrimination, public shame, or fear of legal repercussion?

I say yes.

Recently, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder passed the Breastfeeding Anti-Discrimination Act, giving women the right to nurse in any public space. This is huge for women and mothers, and will hopefully normalize breastfeeding as a natural act – and not a sexualized one. Shannon Polk, Executive Director of the Michigan Breastfeeding Network, is quoted in the article as saying, “‘There’s nothing more natural than giving birth and there’s nothing more natural than feeding your child using your body…You wouldn’t eat lunch in a bathroom. Why should our most precious and sweetest citizens have to eat in a bathroom?’”

Spot on, Polk. Spot on.


August 6th, 2014 | Published in Politics, Reproductive Rights, Women's Rights

Primary Voter Turnout Just as Important


Voters: Come one, come all! The Primary Election is tomorrow, August 5, 2014! For those who don’t know, the Primary Election is the election that narrows down the number of candidates who will run for office in November. It is one way that a political alliance or party gets to nominate candidates for the upcoming election. This election is JUST as important as the general election because it determines your state and local elected officials. Voter turnout counts just as much now as it will in November, so it is crucial that you get out tomorrow to vote instead of waiting for November!

Unsure of what to do next? We have some great resources that can help you!

To see if you are a registered voter and where you have to go to vote (it depends on your district), visit the Secretary of State’s website for more information.

Rock the Vote, a non-partisan non-profit organization, works to engage young people to use their political power to vote, be informed citizens, and more. Their website is incredibly useful and educational, and you can even sign up to vote. Check it out!

If you have never voted before (or it’s been a while), Vote 411 has sample ballots that you can look at before heading to the polls (you can even take it with you when you vote!). You can also use your address to find your polling place, or check out their Voter Guide to compare candidates.

mLive has a wonderful comparison tool for all candidates that are running, as well. You simply put in your home address, choose your district, and the candidates will appear on the page so you can view them side-by-side.

If you’d like to check out which five candidates that Michigan NOW endorses, visit their website for more information.

August 4th, 2014 | Published in Election, Voting

Feminist Bio: Elizabeth Barnum



How did you become a feminist?

I think I was a feminist even before I knew the word for it! As a young girl, I grew up listening to albums like Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas & Friends, reading books like The Paper Bag Princess, and going to a girls’ summer camp where being your true self was valued. I was lucky to have many positive female role models around me, as well as men who supported the autonomy and potential of the women they love. Throughout high school and college, I learned about the history of oppression and the pain of sexism for all genders. I started to notice connections between the stories that friends and I shared with one another and the writings of Carol Gilligan, Gloria Steinem, Bell Hooks, and Eve Ensler. During graduate school, the voices of feminist theologians and feminist ethicists were the ones that spoke my mother tongue. The stories of those who came before me showed me that I am a part of the movement too.


Why do you identify yourself as a feminist?

For me, feminism is about embodiment, empowerment, and equality, not only and especially for women, but for all people. I’m the kind of feminist that values interdependence over independence, connection over separation, vulnerability and strength. I feel increasingly compelled to claim my identity as a feminist. I can’t fail to notice that the strides our foremothers have made are being threatened across a myriad of social, religious, and political contexts. The legislative attempts that seek to restrict a woman’s personal freedom and deny a woman’s moral agency are deeply troubling to me.  A few years ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and applied to participate in a Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute at the Center for American Progress. I can be introverted so it felt like a significant risk to voice publicly that as a feminist and a faith leader, I’m an advocate for access to the full range of reproductive health care, as well as comprehensive sexuality education across the lifespan.


How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

As I get older, I’m realizing that there are countless opportunities to support, encourage, and mentor other women in the same way that many women have mentored me. Too often, I witness women judging each other rather than supporting one another. No matter the choices a woman makes related to children, relationships, health, and career, I believe we’re better off when we honor and value each other’s journeys rather than passing judgment. It is hard work! Women receive mixed messages about what choices to make – from what to wear, to how to speak, to whom to love. I also try to embody feminism in my everyday life by trusting my inner voice, listening to my body, and mustering up courage to take healthy risks.


How do others react to you being a feminist?

Probably in a similar way to how they react when I tell them I’m a minister – it varies! People often share with me that they don’t see religion and feminism as being compatible. It was an ‘aha!’ moment when I heard a college chaplain declare boldly, “I am a Christian AND I am a feminist!” The kind of religion and feminism to which I ascribe are movements about love, justice, and wholeness. There is more than enough in this world (and within our own selves) that seeks to separate us from one another. As a person of faith and as a feminist, my experience of community tells me that we’re all in this together and that anything that brings hope and healing to this world is worth doing. So I hope that people react to me being a feminist in the same way that I react when someone tells me that she or he is a feminist, “Cool! Me too!”

July 29th, 2014 | Published in Bio, Feminsm

Feminist Bio: Meghan Cytacki

meghan   June was LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and to honor that, our Feminist Bio comes from an amazing, brilliant, PROUD LGBT feminist!
Written by: Meghan Cytacki


How did you become a feminist?

I guess you could say that my parents raised me to be a feminist, probably without them knowing. Since I was my dad’s only child, I got to do the stereotypical boy things like play catch, learn about woodworking and handyman tasks, and joke around with his guy friends. On the other hand, I learned traditional women’s roles like cooking, cleaning, and sewing from my mother. Though I learned most of my gender roles from my parents, they never restricted me to doing only girly things. My mom always instilled in me the necessity to be fiercely independent and never failed to remind me that I “didn’t need a man in my life” because I was too busy for one. My dad was more focused on me participating in sports and doing well in school than whether or not I had a boyfriend or wore pretty dresses.

My point is that I had a strong foundation for being a feminist before I entered college without even knowing it. The official “transformation” in to a feminist was a gradual process and my first Women and Gender Studies class at Grand Valley State University spearheaded that. Freshman year was a confusing time, as it is for many. During the winter semester I decided to take Introduction to Women and Gender Studies, mostly because it fulfilled a general education requirement and looked more interesting than the other options.

I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but that class changed my entire perspective on life and the world. Everything that my (amazing) professor said just clicked. I couldn’t get enough from that intro class so I changed my major at the end of the semester to WGS and Psychology. After joining a sorority and other student organizations I found even more people that shared my passion for social justice. Grand Valley formed a little feminist bubble that I was able to grow in and become the confident social justice fighter I am today.


Why do you identify as a feminist?

Being a feminist means to be a part of a community of like-minded people all working towards a common goal of changing the world for the better. I identify as a feminist because I firmly stand for the improvement of human life through major systemic change. Whether that’s eradicating sexism, defeating homophobia, tearing down the patriarchy brick by brick, or ending rape culture. With all of the horrendous events that have taken place recently, especially the UCSB shooting, women are under attack and need more recognition and voice.

Not only as a woman but also as a member of the LGBT community, it’s doubly important to fight for the right to be heard and treated with respect. After I came out during my senior year in college as bisexual, I knew that it would be tough at times. Friends, family, and acquaintances that had known me for years as straight were apparently shocked so I was bombarded with questions. “When did you first know?” “Do you think you’ll end up with a man or a woman?” “Do you still believe in God?” “Which one’s the man in your relationship and which one’s the woman?”

The questions, though mostly harmless, were annoying. On the other hand, other interactions with curious or ignorant people were less civil and more violating. It was as if my whole being had changed because I had finally opened up about whom I felt attracted to and had the capacity to love. If I was straight, I doubt I would have experienced many of the situations I have had after coming out. That’s a major part of why I find it important to be a feminist; because my sexuality doesn’t fit the heteronormative standard, I’m forced to endure awkward encounters and rude questions. And that’s not right!


How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

Most of how I live my life everyday as a feminist is through education; in a good portion of my conversations with people who react negatively either to my sexuality or to feminism the issue is that they’re uneducated or misinformed. Many people have an idea of what it means to be a feminist built up that is, for the most part, not true. Some people can’t see past their own privilege, or even acknowledge that they have privilege. Having a conversation with someone that leaves an interaction with me slightly more open-minded is extremely rewarding to me.


How do others react to you being a feminist?

Honestly? Most people aren’t surprised and have already assumed that I am-which is one assumption I’m proud to have people make about me! I have a lot of feminist connections where I’m able to express and share my opinions in a safe space. A lot of my friends like to joke and say that I’ve “trained” them to be more conscious of what they’re saying and often let me know of situations where they spoke up against an ignorant, sexist, etc. comment.

In the past, occurring less due to the liberal crowd I surround myself with, there would be a wrinkled nose or a grimace when I mentioned feminism. Unfortunately it comes with the territory because of the terrible name that people have placed on it. It has sparked some very interesting and heated conversations, which have either been pleasant or not-so-pleasant, but nonetheless a memorable experience.

July 4th, 2014 | Published in LGBT Rights

SCOTUS Puts Employers Rights Above Women’s Rights: Thoughts from the NOW GR President


-Dani Vilella, President, NOW GR

When major issues occur, I prefer to wait a day to write about them. I want to get a feel for the news coverage and the debate happening amongst people online. After reading the full ruling and dissent, scotusblog, umpteen articles from all sides of the issue, and following the online debates surrounding the Burwell v Hobby Lobby Case, there seem to be some prominent issues, misunderstandings and problems here. Before I delve in, here is a brief synopsis of the case:

On Monday, June 30, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued a ruling on the Burwell v Hobby Lobby case. This case was a battle between the rights of women to receive contraceptive coverage granted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Contraceptive Mandate and the rights of employers to deny benefits to employees based their on religious beliefs.

In a 5-4 decision, (the five being all men) SCOTUS ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga) and the implications could be far reaching. The ACLU of Michigan has provided a brief synopsis of the findings:

    • The government should grant closely held for-profit corporations them the same accommodation it already provides nonprofit organization objectors.


    • Closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage to employees.


  • Closely held corporations (not including publicly traded corporations) are “persons” for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).


Now that we have the gist, let’s talk about a few problems with this case. (All quotes by the court below are taken directly from the SCOTUS ruling. You can read the full text of the ruling, including the Dissent here.


The Contraceptive Problem 1: Denying the Science

The case was brought by Hobby Lobby because the Green Family, the owners, object to 4 methods of birth control covered by the ACA Contraceptive Mandate that they believe are abortifacients. The Supreme Court stated that, “the owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” (Ruling p 2)

The problem? These four contraceptives are NOT abortifacients. Abortifacients are medications that terminate pregnancy. The 4 methods that the Green Family objects to are Plan B and Ella (the two available forms of Emergency Contraception) and Mirena and ParaGuard (the two available forms of Intrauterine Device or IUD). These are birth control methods and do not function by preventing the implantation of a fertilized embryo but by preventing the fertilization from occurring to begin with.

The Court, in allowing the religious beliefs of the Green family to trump the science of how these methods, approved and regulated by the FDA, actually work is a dangerous step. Believing that medicine works a certain way does not make it true. A religious belief against abortion or taking birth control is fine, but to have the Court legitimize that, what you believe to be true regardless of the science behind the medicine is grounds for denial of access to that medicine, is absurd.


The Contraceptive Problem 2: Going Beyond the Scope

To those who are saying that this case only applies to 4 methods, you are wrong. Hobby Lobby’s owners stated that they have no religious objection to the other 16 forms of birth control methods covered in the ACA Contraceptive Mandate. I will set aside for the moment the odd fact that these devout Christians do not have “any problems” with all other forms of birth control and focus for a second on the irrelevancy of their opinion. The Court, not the owners, decided in this case, that regardless of the fact that the original premise of the case dealt only with the four aforementioned methods, ALL birth control was at issue in this case and their ruling states that “under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful. The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA” (Ruling p. 49). This strikes down the full contraceptive mandate for closely held, family owned corporations, and as such means that all birth control methods are subject to this decision. Family owned corporations will no longer be required to provide ANY birth control coverage to their employees if they believe that it violates the owner’s religious beliefs.


The “Benefits” Problem:

This case also raises an interesting question about the concept of “employee benefits” in this country. At what point does the compensation provided by my employer become mine. Benefits are not a freebie handed out to workers because of the generosity of their employers. They are part of the overall compensation package provided to employees – just like disability and wages. Compensation earned for work performed. When do they move from being the property of my employer to my property to do with as I choose? If my employer is able to decide what medical treatments I should have access to because it is “their” money that is paying for part of the insurance, why can’t they decide how I spend my wages? After all, if a Hobby Lobby employee were to get an abortion and pay for it with money earned at their job, isn’t that still the “owner’s money” going to pay for a medical procedure that is contrary to their religious beliefs? It may sound ridiculous, but I think this case begs the question.


The Two “Corporation” Problems:

Many of the articles and arguments happening online are focused around the issue that this ruling will apply only to small, family owned companies. While the Court only recognized the specific rights of these closely held, family owned corporations, this is a slippery slope. As Justice Ginsburg, in her Dissent, states: “The Court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects. Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private” (Dissent p 19).

Some commenters and journalists are even claiming that family owned companies are not “really” corporations. I do not know where the idea that a company owned by a family is not a corporation has come from but please read the definition of a corporation:


“Definition of ‘Corporation’

A legal entity that is separate and distinct from its owners. Corporations enjoy most of the rights and responsibilities that an individual possesses; that is, a corporation has the right to enter into contracts, loan and borrow money, sue and be sued, hire employees, own assets and pay taxes.
The most important aspect of a corporation is limited liability. That is, shareholders have the right to participate in the profits, through dividends and/or the appreciation of stock, but are not held personally liable for the company’s debts.” -Investopedia


This definition (and many many others like it….google it) brings up the second part of the Corporation Problem with this case. The reason that people incorporate companies is to create a distinct and separate boundary between themselves as individuals and the company that they own. People incorporate their companies in order to create a separation between themselves and the company – both financially and legally.

Throughout the SCOTUS ruling, the lines between the owners’ entities and the entity of the corporation are convoluted – with the language going back and forth between the two. It may seem logical that a company is an extension of its owners, but our laws say that this is not so. In order for this ruling to stand, the Supreme Court had to declare that corporations are people in regard to religious freedom. So, what are the qualifications for said corporations to be “religious”? Does the company attend religious services? Does it need to have a certain percentage of its profits go toward tithing? Must it clients be made aware of its religious beliefs when utilizing its services? What are the standards for a “religious” corporation?


The Ethical Problem:

It is also interesting to me that the definition of a corporation limits the financial liability of the owners but apparently does not limit the moral liability of the owners as the SCOTUS briefing examines: “The beliefs of the…Greens implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is immoral for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.” (Ruling p5).

I will ignore, for the moment, the incredibly biased and inflammatory assumptions made by that statement, and focus instead on the fact that corporate law recognizes the limited legal liability of owners in regard to the consequences of actions taken by their corporations (please remember the banking fiascos of the last few years) but this Court seems to believe that limited liability does not apply in cases of sin by association – namely that if I give you access to something that you choose to use to commit a sin, I am as guilty as you are and since my religious beliefs forbid that sin, I am exempt from having to give you the option at all.

The Court is correct in its assertion that this is a “difficult and important question,” but incorrect in its assertion that the court has a role in determining the answer.


The Problem of Unintended Consequences:

In light of the recent impacts we have seen in the political arena based on the last case where the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people (Citizens United 2010) and the fact that the job of the Supreme Court is to establish legal precedent that often has far reaching consequences well beyond the scope of the original court case, I have some questions about this ruling.

SCOTUS limited the scope of this ruling to cover only birth control benefits. Why? Why is birth control special in regard to religious beliefs? How does the Supreme Court think that they can provide special exemption for providing contraceptive coverage but not exemptions for other religiously controversial benefits? For example, Scientologists refute the use of antidepressants. If I were a Scientologist who owned a company, do I now have the right to deny my employees insurance coverage for their Zoloft or Wellbutrin? If not, why not? Why is that religious belief not as significant as a ban on birth control? And if so…then where does it end? As Justice Ginsburg stated in her scathing dissent of this ruling,

“Hobby Lobby and Conestoga surely do not stand alone as commercial enterprises seeking exemptions from generally applicable laws on the basis of their religious beliefs. See, e.g., Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 256 F. Supp. 941, 945 (SC 1966) (owner of restaurant chain refused to serve black patrons based on his religious beliefs opposing racial integration), aff ’d in relevant part and rev’d in part on other grounds, 377 F. 2d 433 (CA4 1967), aff ’d and modified on other grounds, 390 U. S. 400 (1968); In re Minnesota ex rel. McClure,370 N. W. 2d 844, 847 (Minn.1985) (born-again Christians who owned closely held, for-profit health clubs believed that the Bible proscribed hiring or retaining an “individua[l] living with but not married to a person of the opposite sex,” “a young, single woman working without her father’s consent or a married woman working without her husband’s consent,” and any person “antagonistic to the Bible,” including “fornicators and homosexuals” (internal quotation marks omitted)), appeal dismissed, 478 U. S. 1015 (1986); Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 2013–NMSC–040, ___ N. M. ___, 309 P. 3d 53 (for-profit photography business owned by a husband and wife refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners), cert. denied, 572 U. S. ___ (2014).

Would RFRA require exemptions in cases of this ilk? And if not, how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not? Isn’t the Court disarmed from making such a judgment given its recognition that “courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”? Ante, at 37. Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions? (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?31 According to counsel for Hobby Lobby “each one of these cases . . . would have to be evaluated on its own . . . apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Tr. of Oral Arg. 6. Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.” (Dissent p. 32-34 – italics mine)


And Finally…The Religious Freedom Problem – RFRA and its Application:

The Court decided, out of all of the different levels of consideration in this case, that ruling would fall in favor of Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga) based on their interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (an assertion vehemently disputed by the Dissent).

Let’s take a moment to examine the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. We will set aside the title of this legislation which implies that Religious Freedom was apparently lost at some point prior to 1993 and needed to be restored. The Act itself was intended to go further than the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by claiming that “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise” (Read the Full Bill Here. It’s short – go on, take a look). The law goes on to state that government may not burden a person’s religious beliefs unless there is a compelling government interest and then must do so in the least restrictive way. In 1997 SCOTUS ruled this Act unconstitutional at the State Level and since then it has applied only to federal legislation. In the three years between the passage of the law and the 1997 decision, 337 court cases were filed based on the RFRA ranging from land use to the religious rejection of social security numbers because they are the “mark of the beast” from the bible. To say that this Act has had a significant effect on our understanding of law and religion in this country would be an understatement and now the Supreme Court has ruled that, not only do people have rights under the RFRA, but incorporated entities do too.

According to Justice Ginsburg,

“Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.13 The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago, a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” Corporations, Justice Stevens more recently reminded, “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 466 (2010) (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part)” (Dissent, p. 13-14 – italics mine)…Indeed, until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in “the commercial, profit-making world.” Amos, 483 U.S., at 337.16 The reason why is hardly obscure. Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations” (Dissent p. 15-16 – italics mine).


I think it is obvious from the problems listed above that I do not think that this case is about birth control at all. Yes, it is another blow to women and their rights to reproductive freedom and choice in this country. Yes, it is discrimination against women in the workplace. Yes, we should be outraged. But…the issues raised in Burwell v Hobby Lobby go far beyond the issue of whether or not your employer should have a say in your medical decisions (they should not!).

This case is far more important because it raises the issue of how we have come to view the idea of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in the US. It is important because it is another example of bigotry and control thinly veiled beneath the guise of religion. It is important because the Supreme Court stated that science doesn’t matter, fact doesn’t matter, our understanding of for-profit versus non-profit doesn’t matter. What matters, as of June 30, 2014 is the “sincerity” of a corporate owner’s religious beliefs, the fact that they view their work as god’s work, the fact that they feel that medicine works in a particular (and incorrect) way and that their beliefs give them the right to discriminate against and penalize people who work to earn them money.

The religious right is correct in their assertion that religious freedom is being eroded in this country. They are, however, wrong about how that is happening. When my for-profit employer is allowed to determine my medical care based on the belief that my medicine violates their religious views, and that trumps my rights to engage in medical practices that may comply with my religious views (or lack thereof), I would say that freedom of religion is more than eroded. Its singing its swan song.

This is a complicated case, sure to have far reaching implications and it will be interesting to watch the consequences of this decision play out over the next few years. This article barely scratches the surface of this issue and smarter minds than mine will seek to study and analyze it in the future. What is important to remember here is that this decision will have real consequences for thousands, if not tens of thousands of women and their families and that it sets a dangerous precedent that opens the path for further discrimination and progressive rationalization down the road.


Suggested Further Reading:

Please take a moment to read Justice Ginsburg’s Dissent (begins on page 60) It is WELL worth the read!

Court rules in favor of for-profit corporations, but how broadly? In Plain English

Wider impact of Hobby Lobby ruling?

5 myths about the Hobby Lobby case, debunked


July 2nd, 2014 | Published in Federal, Government, Health Care

GO BOLDLY Campaign!


NOW GR is proud to support the Go Boldly campaign, created by Grand Rapids photographer, Bri Luginbill. We love our bodies, our minds and our hearts! We celebrate who we are, love who we are, and affirm others around us. Luginbill spurred this movement as a response to the Go Confidently plastic surgery billboard advertisements. We want to encourage a conversation in the Grand Rapids community as to what true beauty is and also who defines beauty. The following is a description of the Go Boldly campaign, written by Bri herself! There is even information on ways YOU can take action and participate in this amazing movement, so read on!

Go Boldly is a positive body image campaign. It first came about as my response to billboard advertisements I saw along the highways of Grand Rapids. The ads seemed to play off of women’s (and men’s) insecurities as to advertise for plastic surgery. They had photos of women or men and the words “Go Confidently” across the billboard. Underneath that slogan were tag lines like “experts in tummy tucks” or “experts in Botox” While, they may have been trying to get a positive message out, I felt like it was not communicating a positive body image message. So, Go Boldly was born on March 17th, 2014.

I asked as many people as I could to pose for me in a white t-shirt and jeans and displayed the words “Go Boldly, Love Your Body” across their photograph. We posted these on Facebook and it got much response locally and internationally! We have people from Virginia and event Israel contacting us! To date, we have photographed over 100 people from ages 6 months to 65 years old. We’ve photographed children, women and men.

Currently, we are trying to raise money to buy advertisement space locally and internationally. Our goal is to combat photoshopped, unattainable and unreal images with natural, real people. These ads are to show that EVERY person and EVERY body is beautiful. We should love and accept the body we are in and not feel pressured to be anything else but ourselves. So far we have raised around $400. Ad space can be expensive, so we need to keep raising funds in as many ways as possible.
Ways YOU can participate:

1) Come get your photo taken for $50. You’ll receive one digital image without any text to use as you wish. This is our thank you for being a part of this movement!
2) Purchase a t-shirt. They are $15 each and $5 for shipping. www.booster.com/goboldlygrandrapids
3) Make a donation by going to our website and clicking the DONATE button www.goboldlygr.com

Thank you for your support!

June 12th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, Fundraising, Love Your Body Day, LYB

Feminist Bio: Holly Seymour



How did you become a feminist?

I remember having a strong sense of social justice and an interest in challenging social norms from an early age. I became a vegetarian at the age of 14 and did a lot of things in high school that rejected traditional gender ideals like shaving off my hair and wearing men’s clothes from resale shops.  Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly Homecoming Queen material. During that same time, my mom went back to college and eventually graduated with her bachelor’s degree when she was 50 years old. She worked her tail off and I saw her become more confident and independent. It really made an impression on me.

I went away to college at Michigan State in the early 90’s. I lived in a house off campus with three female friends who I am still very close with. It was my first time away from home and I was experiencing independence and freedom like I never had before. The four of us would hang out all the time and have charged discussions about sexism, racism, classism and religion. We were learning about those issues in our college classes and it was awakening new ways of thinking for all of us. We started challenging the messages that we heard growing up and examining how those issues played out in our daily lives. Our “soundtrack” at the time reflected this. We were coming of age during a time when things were changing for women in the underground music scene and it was really exciting. I didn’t consider myself a Riot Grrrl back then but we were rocking out to bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, Spitboy, and 7 Year Bitch. We even created a ‘zine. It is kind of embarrassing to look at now because we were so young and earnest but we had a blast making it. It was called “Dry Weave” after the Always brand maxi-pads.  This was before the internet so our ‘zine had cut-out magazine pictures of ultra-thin “waif” model Kate Moss who was very popular back then. We hand wrote sarcastic things about being on lettuce-only diets and included poetry that we wrote about the lives of prostitutes. We stayed up late and ran copies at Kinko’s. I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning to form my identity as a feminist.

I don’t think I called myself a feminist until after I began volunteering at MSU SafePlace as a Dating Violence and Sexual Assault Educator in 1994.  The statistics I heard in the volunteer training blew me away. I was sickened to learn about the prevalence of violence against women and how the legal system often re-victimizes rape victims who risk everything to come forward. This was at a time when the use of date rape drugs was exploding on college campuses. It floored me how many people looked the other way and wanted to believe “that doesn’t happen here.” All of it ignited a fire in me. The volunteer position led to an internship which eventually turned into a paid position at Council Against Domestic Assault (now called Eve, Inc.) in Lansing. I was involved in planning Take Back the Night and candlelight vigils for victims who had lost their lives at the hands of their abusive partners. I created dating violence programming for teens and trained volunteers on how to support callers on the 24 hour crisis line. I loved it. After finishing my graduate degree, I headed to Chicago where I lived for about eight years. I continued to work at various non-profits including a 42-bed domestic violence shelter on Chicago’s west side. The shelter eventually was forced to close because of funding issues. It was an extremely challenging experience that had a lasting impact on my life. Today, I am the Program Director at Center for Women in Transition and feminist work is a part of my daily life–personally and professionally.
Why do you identify yourself as a feminist?

It is just common sense to me: Women should be afforded the same opportunities and rights as men. It is ludicrous that we are not there yet.

How do you embody feminism in your everyday life?

I embody feminism in everyday life on a personal level by making choices that empower me. It is an endless struggle to separate your own desires and choices from the cultural messages you get bombarded with everyday: how you are supposed to look and act, the choices that you are supposed to make, what your family should look like. For example, my partner of 13 years is a thoughtful, hilarious, insightful and intelligent man. He is 39 and I am 40 and we do not have children. I get questions about it all the time. People have even asked if there is something physically wrong with me that has prevented me from getting pregnant- really personal stuff! I am supposed to be a mother because that’s what all women are supposed to want –but it isn’t. It shouldn’t be weird or worrisome to anyone that having children isn’t a choice that is right for us.

Media messages at their worst send out signals that make us believe that being thin and beautiful is the highest achievement a woman can attain; that the way women dress makes men rape and that if women weren’t so bitchy or insecure they wouldn’t get beaten. To protect my sanity, I do my best to separate myself from mainstream culture. I don’t buy magazines that have negative messages about women. I don’t listen to music or watch movies that glorify traditional gender roles or violence against women. I spend a lot of time in nature because it re-energizes me and reminds me what is real. I try to fill my life with people who challenge me on an intellectual level and don’t buy into the B.S. I am extremely lucky to be able to work with amazingly intelligent and confident women as a part of my job. I also take part in the positive changes that are happening in my community and I take action on issues that are important to me. Activism can be much easier than most people think- just sending a quick email to your representative or volunteering at an event is activism. It doesn’t have to require a huge commitment and it can be a great way to meet people that share your interests and values.

How do others react to you being a feminist?

I think by now the fact that I am a feminist is not a shock to anyone in my life but I know that a lot of people are still scared of the term because they don’t understand it. This is nothing new. People mistakenly think that only women can be feminists and that feminists are full of hate-hatred toward men in particular. For me, feminism has way more to do with love than hate. It means working toward an egalitarian society where relationships aren’t about power and control, where your body belongs to you and you have the right to decide what happens to it, and where it isn’t rare for girls to aspire to grow up to hold elected positions and for boys to want to grow up and be awesome Dads. It is about opening up options so everyone can realize their potential. We all win.

June 5th, 2014 | Published in Bio, Feminsm

Mother’s Day, As A Feminist

mothersdayWritten By Lydia Stubbs


I am an F E M I N I S T and I have always lived my life as one. Equality is a very important piece of who I am.  All people are equal. Some might have more education or money, some people might have been given more authority due to their careers, but in the end we are humans and are equal. We all have the same amount of time each day, 24 hours – nobody has more or less than others.

I am a feminist and I have given birth and raised four daughters. They range in age from almost 17 to 26. My husband, Roger, and I helped our daughters grow up without limits on the things they could do.  While thinking about writing this piece, I did ask my daughters what their thoughts were on being raised by a feminist and I will share a few examples of their replies throughout this essay.

“Female empowerment affected my upbringing”

“I think that your feminist view has led me to live an open minded life. There was nothing in my life that I have come across that I felt I couldn’t do because I was a girl / women.”

At the beginning of my life as a mother, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about being a feminist. It was always understood that gender did not matter in a child.  All our girls had plenty of trucks and tutus, dinosaurs and dolls.  They were expected to do well in school, and find a profession that makes them happy.

 “Growing up, I played with dinosaurs, cars, did karate, and went to a shark dissecting camp…..things mostly little boys do. I also played with Barbie’s, and dress-up and put make up on and do little girl things too. I got to use my creativity and explore all kinds of interests. This is how I ended up getting a degree in biology by being really interested in sciences and experiments and sharks.”

“I was taught no career was off limits, as a student I excelled in math and sciences and was encouraged to explore these fields. While I ended up changing my direction I never once questioned if I belonged in those areas of study.”

Being physical was another very important aspect of raising my girls.  Everyone learned at a very young age to swim and ride a bike. Climbing was always encouraged and for many, many years the tree out front was the gathering space for the girls. The tree was the place to hold meetings and do homework in. At some point during their growing years, we thought about putting a ladder against the tree, or some boards to make a tree house, but nobody really pushed for it. They just climbed up and lived on the limbs – well into their middle school years. The girls were and still are athletes and ended up participating in school sports teams. Sometimes it seemed like we were a completely sports driven family. I remember that we dealt with four different teams during a specific year, one in high school cross-country, one in middle school cross-country, one in elementary school basketball and one in dance. Not sure how many practices and meets we attended during those seasons.

“Both genders are capable of competing, setting goals and remaining active. It has encouraged me to keep running, biking, swimming and going to the gym. It never fazed me to not be involved in sports and I was always encouraged to choose a sport or two to be part of, no matter what it was.”

Families often fall into patterns and we were no different. My husband was the main money earner for us, and I stayed home with the girls for a number of years. During those times, the term feminist did not often enter the conversation, but it was always understood that gender was never a factor in deciding who did what; all family members took part in the routine tasks of running a household. Roger is the dishwashing buff, I am the main cook and the girls were encouraged to help around the house.

As the girls got older and we really started to have discussions, it was always fun and interesting to see the topics that came up. Nothing was off limits. Once in a while it caused some awkward pauses but I hope they never felt they could not bring up a topic. I tried to instill in them a sense of openness to all things, and that they certainly had a right to their own opinions.

“I was never told I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t smart enough, or it was too unrealistic or I was girl. This helped me in my relationships, and making sure I put my dreams first and didn’t compromise who I was for a guy.”

“I was taught that my body is my body and I own my sexuality. I have never been fearful to discuss health concerns with my mother and have never felt any body shamming in my own household. My mother never encouraged me to look or dress a certain way and allowed me to make these personal decisions myself. “

“I also was taught that a woman is in charge of her body – no one else. This means that any woman has the right to say no and that it is wrong if that no isn’t respected. It also taught me the importance of choice and knowledge when it came to sex education and so on, leading me to be a believer in sex education and a pro-choice advocate. “

Thinking about my life, it is very clear that I was born a feminist. I championed for equal rights while growing up in a small, male domineering town in Germany. Even as a little girl, I did not accept that one should be treated differently because of ones gender. At that time, I did not have the vocabulary for my displeasure but I always fought for equality. As a very young adult, I met Roger, and we hit it off right away, as he accepted me the way I was. We certainly had our ups and downs in the past 30+ years but I am always able to be myself. I lost a little of my independence at the beginning of our adventure with a new life in the USA. I did not know the language or the quirks of living in America and had to depend on Roger for many things. This lasted only for a short while, and as we added children to our family, the old fierce I was back.

Becoming a mother made me live more as a feminist because gender equality is a given right in my opinion. The world was my girls to take, and I was going to help them conquer it as best as possible. My job as their mother is to guide them to become as independent and self-sufficient as they could.

“Being raised by a woman who believes in independence and equality has encouraged me to be independent and advocate for my wants and needs”

“I was taught the importance of financial independence that I should strive to make the life I want for myself through my own personal achievements”

The world will be a better place as more strong independent women are in power, and mothers all over the world have a chance to help make this happen. Raising four wonderful strong daughters has changed me in many ways, reinforcing my belief in feminism.

May 11th, 2014 | Published in Empowerment, Feminsm

My Body, My Rules (Or So I’m Told)

ask before you touch me  Written by Jessica Krebs
Legislative Action Chair, NOW GR

This past Fall, I was walking downtown Grand Rapids to meet a friend for coffee. Although it was a nice day with the sun shining in a cloudless sky, it was still brisk and chilly, so I wore a coat over my dress, cardigan, and leggings to stay warm. As I stopped at a crosswalk to head across the street, a group of seven men started saying loudly, “Hey there, pretty lady.  Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” I glanced over at them and realized it was me they were talking to. “What are you up to?” “Wherever you’re going, can I come with?” I had glanced away and was ignoring them, but it only encouraged their catcalls. “Sure lookin’ good today.” “You should really slap a smile on that face.” “Hey, look over here when we’re talkin’ to you.” Now they were angry. “Why are you ignoring us?” And finally: “Slut.” “Stupid whore.” “Bitch.” “Cunt.”

Dear Men: Just so we’re clear, I am not expected, as a woman, to respond to your advances or catcalls just because I am in your male presence.  I do not exist for your pleasure, visually or otherwise. And really, how do you expect me to respond to this behavior? Walk across the street, thank you for calling me a “pretty little bitch” (another term of endearment said to me on a different occasion), and ask you to take me home with you? Or are you not really wanting any other response than for me to stand there, continue to “look pretty”, smile, and maybe bat my eyes at you if I’m feeling generous – passive and quiet, but still obviously there for your satisfaction? Patriarchy: Teaching men from a young age that this is normal behavior, and teaching women that they should accept it quietly.

This was not the first time such harassment has happened to me before, and certainly will not be the last, as this common behavior and prevalent attitude that women and their bodies are strictly for male pleasure is normalized in our society. This is an aspect of Rape Culture: The concept that we accept as a society through attitudes and practices that sexual assault and rape can be excused, condoned, trivialized, made fun of, and tolerated. This culture is rife with the most incredible victim-blaming – She was drunk; she clearly wanted it because of what she was wearing; she has had sex before; she has had many previous sexual partners; she is in the sex work industry, so she obviously cannot be raped when she has sex for a living; she never said no, so of course that means yes; we are in a relationship and sex has always been a big part of our relationship, so she cannot turn it down when I want it; we started having consensual sex but if she decides she wants to stop halfway through, she shouldn’t be allowed to because she already said yes.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will report that they have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. If this statistic doesn’t shock you, it should. There is a wildly prevalent belief that sexual assault is a rare occurrence or only happens when the perpetrator is a stranger. In reality, the 1 in 6 and 1 in 33 statistics are only based on what has been compiled from actual reports; sexual assault is severely underreported due to shame or personal guilt; and fear of not being believed, being inflicted with further violence, victim-blamed for what happened to them, fired from a job, or outed as LGBTQI+. Furthermore, the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows.

I could go on with story upon story of sexual harassment and assault against me and my body. In middle school, “friends” of the opposite sex invented games which resulted in the loser (which, coincidentally, was always me or another girl) having to lift their shirts up to reveal their bare chest. In high school, I had my ass slapped and grabbed, the back of my bra snapped open in the hallways, and was pressured to engage in sexual activity even with no hint of enthusiasm or consent on my part. Walking downtown Grand Haven one day with my best friend, we noticed a large black pick-up truck had been following us down the street. It would slow down next to us as we walked down the sidewalk, the man’s penis visible on the other side of his rolled-down window as he masturbated for us – and any other passerby – to see.

I have had a former male co-worker follow me in the walk-in cooler of the restaurant we worked, stick his hand up my shirt, and grab my breasts. I’ve had multiple men grab my ass at work, including both co-workers and customers. One male customer, a well-known Dentist in the area, told me that I had great teeth – but stared directly at my breasts while “complimenting” me. As a restaurant server, I’ve been called pet names by customers, such as Babe, Sweetheart, and Pretty Little Thing, all in the same breath as being told that I would make an excellent wife someday because I can serve so well – while these men check out my body from head to toe, with an extra long look at my behind. I have been massaged by a former manager at my job, right on the floor where customers could see, as I was casually bending over a table talking to another co-worker.

For a couple of years, an adult male in my life had inappropriately made jokes and asked probing questions regarding sex, masturbation, my body, and my (perceived) sex life; touched and groped me with the complete and utterly privileged assumption that there is nothing inherently wrong with the unconsensual touching of another human being. I was young – just beginning high school, and unsure of what everything really meant or how to deal with it. These particular instances are why I consider myself a sexual assault survivor, and what propelled me into activist work.

I must ask: How many examples must one person give to get others to listen and realize that sexual assault is absolutely not a joke? That as survivors, we are not making it up or “crying rape”? That we need to be believed, supported, and helped if and when we choose to seek justice? That we are never guilty because of what happens to us? That it is never our fault, even if this victim-blaming Rape Culture tells us otherwise? That if it’s my body, it’s my rules? Rape and sexual assault are not trivial. It matters, damn it – a lot. Thinking back now on the opening paragraph of this piece, I had described what I was wearing prior to mentioning the street harassment I endured. I felt like I had to excuse any part of my behavior and dress in order to “prove” I actually did nothing wrong to deserve the slurs that were hurled my way, even though it didn’t matter what I was wearing, nor would it have mattered if I was in a tank top and mini skirt. As survivors, and women in general, we are constantly having to prove we didn’t choose, welcome, or encourage harassment or assault. Which, I hope we can all agree on by now, is complete bullshit.

Sexual assault is not black and white. It refers to any unwanted sexual activity that is against another person’s will and consent. It is considered an umbrella term, meaning that it covers many types of unconsensual sexual activity. It crosses all racial, sex and gender, class, and ethnic boundaries. It victimizes people of all ages, to those in relationships and marriages, to those in the military and in prison, and in the LGBTQI+ community. It is violence, even if not inherently physical, that strips victims of bodily autonomy, choice, independence, and control over their own bodies and consensual sexual choices. It is a hate crime that leaves victims with a host of effects to deal with throughout the aftermath of the harassment, assault, or rape; the recovery from being a victim; and the transition to becoming a survivor.

If we were truly honest with ourselves, we would speak up more about this issue without embarrassment or hesitation. If we were truly honest with ourselves, we would hold campaigns and rallies and walks as huge as the national efforts to combat cancer, Alzheimer’s, and alcohol and drug abuse. It’s not an unfair assumption to believe that everyone you know would attend Relay for Life, but even less would go to a Take Back the Night or Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event. We wouldn’t stop organizing, creating awareness, educating, passing laws, and following through to uphold them. If we were truly honest, we would recreate a society with true bodily and sexual autonomy, enthusiastic and unwavering consent, comprehensive sex education, sexual assault education in schools, and accessible crisis centers. Of course, in order to do this, we also need to continue to dismantle sexism, transphobia, racism, homophobia, Rape Culture, misogyny, and patriarchy. That being said, this isn’t impossible, but we have some work to do – and I hope you passionately join in on the fight.


If you are interested in learning more about sexual assault, please join NOW GR and the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) at our Sexual Assault 101 presentation on Wednesday, April 23rd from 6:30 – 8:30pm. Holly Wilson, the Clinical Coordinator at CWIT, will be educating the community on victim blaming myths, bystander intervention, myths and facts, statistics, and consent. NOW GR is asking for a $5 donation if you can, and/or a feminine hygiene product that will be donated to CWIT. Visit our Facebook event for details and to RSVP.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek out these resources:

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): https://www.rainn.org/
RAINN National Phone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
RAINN Online Hotline: https://ohl.rainn.org/online/
YWCA (Grand Rapids, MI): http://ywcawcmi.org/
Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) in Holland, MI: www.aplaceforwomen.org
Children’s Assessment Center: http://www.cac-kent.org/

April 19th, 2014 | Published in Consent, Sexual Assault

About National Organization For Women: Greater Grand Rapids Chapter (NOWGR)

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