put up your dukes, asshole

put up your dukes, asshole

Over the past couple of days, I’ve heard from a number of friends with questions about what they should do in response to the outcome of the election; how they can have a impact in the face of the administration that will be in The White House in January. I’ve written this post with those folks in mind.

1. He’s going to be President. And even if you magically get rid of him, then you have Mike Pence. 

I don’t say this to suggest that people shouldn’t be in the streets chanting “Not my president!” this week and throughout the four years he (presumably) will be in office. It’s INCREDIBLY important that this is happening. It’s obviously cathartic for those who are involved, but it also sends a message to him and to those who will work with him (like the Republican-led Senate and House) that he does not have a resounding mandate from the American people. (He may have been given the keys to the car, but our hands are firmly on the parking brake.) It also sends a valuable message internationally: we’re not all xenophobic, racist, sexist assholes with messiah complexes and we don’t want to be told what to do by someone who is. Many of us, in fact, know how to and would like to play nicely, with the recognition that the global sandbox is large – and diverse.

I DO say this because I’ve seen people share ideas for how to prevent his ascension and I think it’s a waste of time and energy that is going to be greatly needed over the next four years. And it ignores the reality that Mike Pence may not be a blowhard, but he IS a homophobic prick who wants to take control of our bodies away from women and that, even if we get rid of Pence, the next in line is Speaker Paul Ryan. (Shudder.)

We need to confront reality: this is the card we have been dealt. Play it.

2. Stay and do your part.

For those of you who are talking about leaving? That’s nice for you, but there are a whole bunch of folks who don’t have that luxury and could use your help.

3. Educate yourself. Just because he doesn’t understand how the government works doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In addition to the fact that he is a liar, a pig, and a racist, xenophobic, sexist creep, the thing that has driven me most batty about him is that he doesn’t seem to know how government works. He hasn’t read the Constitution (Could someone get this man a copy of the Constitution for Dummies?), he doesn’t grasp checks and balances and the limitations of the Executive Office and – which is weird for a Republican – he seems to think more power sits in the federal government (versus with the states) than actually does. The asshat doesn’t even know what Obamacare is, except that he doesn’t like it. I supported Hillary, in part, for the same reason I hire someone who knows how to use a camera when we need to film something; she knows how it works.

The thing is, a fair number of us need to pull out our U.S. Civics textbooks too, if we’re going to be able to be effective in response to the shit that is going to be flying our way. In particular, it is important to know what gets decided at the state/local versus federal level. For many of us who are lucky enough to live in “blue” states, we can advocate for and support our state, county, and city-level lawmakers to pass legislation that reflects our values and protects our neighbors and which can counter more hateful decisions that are being made at the federal level. (In most cases, state law overrides federal law.) We can also pay attention to what is happening at the state, county, and city-level in OTHER states and engage our friends who live there to be involved and do the same.

The kinds of issues that are decided locally versus at the federal level include many/most voting rights issues, education policy, LGBTQ discrimination/anti-discrimination policies, reproductive rights, police/criminal justice reform, and more. It is something about which you can be hopeful because you HAVE POWER.

4. We have allies at the federal level. 

While I hope they don’t choose to obstruct for the sake of being obstructionists – like their GOP brethren did in response to Obama – there are quite a few Democrats in the House and Senate who will be grabbing hands and playing the most important game of Red Rover EVER. They may represent you, they may not. But they need to hear from you when the time comes. And those who don’t seem like obvious allies? They need to hear from you too. There are plenty of GOP members of Congress who think he is bat shit crazy. Appeal to their better selves.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Support the folks who were doing work before and will continue to do tomorrow and the day after as well.

I’ve seen some folks talk online about starting new organizations. PLEASE avoid the temptation. Of course, I say this with the SIGNIFICANT caveat that Black Lives Matter is relatively newly created and has had an invaluable impact. But it was done so organically and because there was a gap that needed to be filled and its message resonated with those who became involved and who may not have been involved otherwise. (Read Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright for his take on their origin story and because Jeff is one of the most important voices in this country.) So, sure, if there IS a gap, fill it. But educate yourself first and consider making the groups who are not as strong as they could be STRONG.

I know of LOTS of groups who are getting by with minimal staff and tiny budgets that could use volunteers, people who can help them to get their messages out, and MONEY to help them to change the world. And I would be happy to share them with you if you’re looking to have an impact on a particular issue.

6. Subscribe to a newspaper.

I’m serious. Pay for your content. The next President has been hostile to the press, particularly those who call him out on his lies. WE NEED THEM. They fact check his bullshit. They let us know what is UP. And they NEEDS TO GET PAID to be able to continue to do so or they go away.

7. SCOTUS are people.

I am admittedly terrified about the impact that he will have on the Supreme Court – for generations to come. But while it can be scary that many decisions that affect our lives are decided by NINE people, they are in fact people. And one of the criteria they consider when they make their decisions is whether or not the country is READY for the change that would result from their decisions. So, get your shit together and pay attention to the SCOTUS docket (the SCOTUS blog is your friend) and, when an issue that is important to you is coming up, TALK ABOUT IT. Share news stories about it. In a couple of months, Aggregate is going to be on your case to talk about transgender issues for this very reason. SHOW UP.

8. Rock the Vote EVERY Day.

About twenty years ago I moved to Los Angeles to work at Rock the Vote. I ran a campaign that aimed to help young people understand that policy change happened on a day-to-day basis; that Election Day was not the only chance you had to have your voice heard. We traveled the country looking for stories of real young people who were getting skate parks built, overturning city council decisions to prevent all ages shows, increasing funding for higher education. And we found the little bastards. They recognized their ability to have an impact on issues that mattered to them. Please do the same. And please ask me – and my team – when you need help to do so. Our jobs became more difficult on November 8, but our passion for social justice persists.

Put up your dukes, asshole, we’re coming to get you.

If you have any more ideas, please share in the comments.

the grandma magda guide to building relationships

the grandma magda guide to building relationships

My grandmother, Magda Brown, excels at building and cultivating relationships. This is inherent in her nature, but she is also driven by a personal mission. She is determined to share her story of surviving the Holocaust with as many people as possible. Through telling her story, she hopes to make future generations conscious of the signs of genocide so they can prevent future atrocities.

Grandma Magda has reached tens of thousands of people through her speeches at schools, synagogues, churches, and events, podcasts and media interviews, and the website I created to share her story. “God blessed me with a positive personality. I love people. I love to communicate,” she said. “I feel that my message should be heard and it is being heard, so I take full advantage of that.”

I recently sat down with my grandmother to talk more about her approach to relationships – lessons I strive to apply in my own life.

1. Sit by someone you don’t know.

“I tell my friends, ‘Don’t save me a seat. I like to sit with people I’ve never met before.’ It took a while for my friends not to be offended,” Grandma Magda joked.

Years ago, my grandmother struck up a conversation with Jonathan, a young man sitting next to her at a concert. He was a Methodist pastor and invited my grandmother to speak at his church. Jonathan went on to become a professor at Aurora University, and my grandmother spoke to his class year after year. She became so involved with the university that they gave her an honorary degree. And Jonathan became such a close family friend that he officiated my sister’s wedding. That stranger you sit next to could be end up having a large impact on your life.

2. Be open to new opportunities.

You never know what an experience may lead to. For example, one woman heard my grandmother speak at an event at the state capital, then suggested her as a guest to a Catholic radio station. The radio station interviewed my grandmother, then decided to distribute her testimony to all of the Catholic schools in the area. “This is how the message spreads,” she said.

3. Follow up and follow through.

When my grandmother meets people through her travel and speaking engagements, they often talk about visiting each other when they’re in town or bringing her in to speak at their school or congregation. The thing that astounds me (and this may be a reflection of my generation’s flakiness) is that everyone follows up and follow through on these discussions. There are no empty gestures. “I try to keep my refrigerator packed with homemade goodies so I can serve my visitors,” she said.

4. Know your audience.

My grandmother stays up to date on technology and trends to ensure she can relate to her audience when speaking and get her message across. “I have to know their language to connect with these children,” Grandma Magda said. She happily poses for selfies with middle-schoolers (she briefly called them “sophies,” until my mom corrected her) and has started to do Skype Q&As with classes around the country.

5. Find a great mentor.

As a young woman who had recently immigrated to the United States, my grandmother came down with pneumonia. The doctor who treated my grandmother – a fellow Hungarian Jew – saw great potential in her and offered to train her to work in his doctor’s office. My grandmother seized the opportunity. She went on to become a medical assistant and worked with Dr. Schwartz for 40 years.

My grandmother said that Dr. Schwartz taught her the importance of treating all patients – and all people – as equals, a lesson that continues to influence her approach to relationships today.

inspiring action through data-driven storytelling

inspiring action through data-driven storytelling

As a person who has dedicated my adult life to helping move the needle on social justice issues, I understand deeply why so many people feel disenfranchised, unable to take action on issues they care about in ways that actually make a difference. The landscape is daunting: social challenges are articulated in huge, overwhelming ways; physical protest feels meaningful mostly only when a significant number decide to do it simultaneously; and the organizations dedicated to change don’t usually do an adequate job of ensuring that our highest contributions—those of knowledge and specific skills—are effectively engaged. It is hard to know where to start.

Data—when used to tell a good story—can help break through these obstacles and begin to frame an achievable path to action. Take, for example, this Prison Population Forecaster developed recently by The Urban Institute. Using data gathered from 15 states, they have tracked the rise (or, less frequently, the fall) of prison populations in recent years (time frames vary). They then offer the opportunity for the user to test different policy scenarios: If we made XX policy change, it would result in XX impact on the prison population over the next seven years.

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After exploring the Forecaster for a while, it helped me understand how different the challenges are for each state. It helped me see that the level of action we need to take in order to significantly change the trends of mass incarceration are far beyond what I originally understood. Perhaps most importantly, it provided me with a framework for making my own choices about what policy changes to support for the kind of change I want to see.

This tool also brought me to a bigger question: Are we as social justice activists using data-driven storytelling to help people engage in the issues they care about in a truly impactful way? There is plenty of data in our world, used mostly to evaluate the impact of past social change efforts and guide our future strategies. That is different than the ability to tell a data-driven story that moves people from awareness to action and not just action, but meaningful, sustainable action. It is the story that makes the difference.

I find this to be a powerful opportunity for those of us who develop, test, and lead new approaches to engagement and movement building in the effort to attain social justice. It is one of the reasons I am so grateful to be here at Aggregate. (Pardon the shameless—but authentic!—plug.) Long before I arrived (just this past June), the team here was exploring these ideas and developing tools like this one focused on Visualizing Health Data. They help us understand there is no single best way to share data. The story you tell with data depends on what your goals are, whom you are trying to reach, and what action you want them to take.

In an environment where engagement, community organizing, and policy change efforts are happening more and more frequently online—and in a world where people are constantly informing their lives and choices via mobile devices—the right data-driven digital story has the power to inspire an unprecedented number of people to meaningful action.

I haven’t seen a spreadsheet yet that helps get people out of prison, that’s for sure.

how to have an impact when volunteering

how to have an impact when volunteering

When I first moved up to Seattle, I was a self-proclaimed “professional volunteer.” I loved finding organizations and helping them. Managing social media accounts, putting stamps on invitations, sorting wigs—I did it all. I like to think that my volunteering made a long-term impact with these organizations but I can’t say that for sure. I know my help was appreciated but likely forgotten once a new crop of volunteers came through the door.

I have less time to volunteer these days, so I’m now focused on making sure my efforts support the organization in a meaningful way. There is nothing wrong with putting stamps on letters or tracking names in a spreadsheet, but you can have a bigger impact when you focus on setting up successful processes that make the organization better in the long-term.

I recently came across an article about Toyota’s work with the Food Bank For New York City. Rather than write a check, Toyota offered to share its knowledge of kaizen with the Food Bank. Kaizen, which I learned about during my days at Boeing, is a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement.” It’s an effort to optimize flow and quality by constantly looking for ways to improve. Toyota’s offer was aimed at helping the nonprofit serve more people, more efficiently by searching for ways to streamline their process.

It worked. The Food Bank was able to speed up services and slash wait times at its soup kitchen and warehouse.

I love that Toyota’s employees shared their professional knowledge—that’s what’s missing for a lot of organizations. Volunteers can have an enormous impact on an organization’s well-being and culture, but volunteers need to be committed to making the best use of their time. They need to understand the goals of the organization and convey their skills to the organization.

If you want to volunteer and make an impact, it’s your responsibility to figure out how you can best help. For example, if you’re a writer, don’t just volunteer to write a couple of posts for the newsletter or website. You could also help create processes to make content development run smoother—like building an editorial calendar or interviewing board members for future stories. A writer could also help develop a content strategy and develop a process to get stakeholders to contribute to the organization’s blog.

Sometimes, we can get stuck on “task list” mode. Instead, we should focus on looking for opportunities to help meet the organization’s long-term objectives and find ways to help the organization think outside the box. Organizations can help foster this environment by being open to new ideas, listening to their volunteers, and helping them feel empowered to act on their ideas. This way, it’s a win-win situation.