kind of a big deal

kind of a big deal

We’re thrilled over here in Aggregate land to announce that we’re working with Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker David France to develop and run the social impact campaign in support of his new film about trans rights pioneers Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. We’re super fans of David’s first film, How to Survive a Plague, and it was our fandom that – in part – contributed to having this opportunity. David knew we were a passionate group and that we understand what he is trying to do: tell stories about those who are not widely known, but should be because they changed the world – for all of us and for the better. Plus, we wrote a kick ass proposal.

The film is still in production; they will begin editing this spring. Aggregate’s work will involve working with the Sylvia & Marsha (working title) team – which includes producers Kim Reed (Prodigal Sons) and L.A. Teodosio (Love is Strange) – to create and implement the social impact outreach strategy, develop and manage the film’s advisory group and organizational partnerships, raise funding for the campaign, and more.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress and look forward to seeing you when the film premieres.

worthy in your eyes

worthy in your eyes

Aggregate celebrated four years of being in business this October and today we celebrate four years of showing our gratitude by giving back. We donate approximately 10 percent of our profits each year.

Selecting the organizations to which we make donations is a collaborative process, with staff proposing their ideas for organizations that reflect Aggregate’s values as a company: committed to social justice and equity, unapologetic about their passion, and believers in storytelling – in its many forms – as a tool for social change.

Every day in our work, we must pitch ideas to clients and make effective arguments as to why they should be embraced. And we must develop and execute upon communications strategies that impel people to take actions that will help our clients achieve their missions. So these pitches are also an opportunity for staff to hone their skills. In this case, they need to convince ME to write a check.

Wait…WHAT? Subjective decision-making?

Yep.

Just as many of our “worthy” ideas never see the light of day because we have failed to convince a client to embrace them, only a few among the many that are worthy of our support ultimately make the list.

Once again I am proud of the team for their ideas. We share these organizations with you in the hopes that you will consider joining us in supporting them. But if we don’t convince you, we hope you’ll still share your good fortune with other organizations that are worthy in your eyes.

We remained loyal.
We made our fourth annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights. The Center provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, improves legal representation for people who are low-income, and challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails. This year was also the fourth year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to homeless LGBTQ youth. And for the fourth year in a row, we made the donation in honor of Spencer Cox, who gave so much to all of us in his efforts to end the AIDS pandemic.

We did something we never did before.
We maintain a strict line between our charitable donations and our business development efforts (i.e., we’re sincere), so we’ve never made a donation to a client organization. But then we had the honor of working with the Abortion Care Network. At the end of a year during which women’s access to their constitutional right to plan their families was attacked repeatedly, we think it’s an imperative to support providers who literally risk their lives every day to provide exceptional care to their patients. The Abortion Care Network is small in size, but enormous in ambition and their value to the abortion care community. We want them to succeed.

We believe in justice – in all its manifestations.
We’re heading into an election year and we need to be prepared to ensure that those who want to go to the polls are not impeded and their votes are counted, so we made the decision to support Common Cause. We appreciate how the Campaign for Youth Justice uses storytelling in their effort to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system, so we made a donation to them to help them to continue to do so. We made a donation to Girls Who Code to help bridge the gender gap and inspire, educate, and equip more girls to have the computing skills they need to succeed. We donated to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit media organization focused on reporting on the American criminal justice system, because they help to make us smarter every day. We donated to Seattle’s Splash to support their efforts to provide clean water to kids around the world and, specifically, in response to the earthquake in Nepal this past April. And we made a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to better enable the organization to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence. And because we love Sylvia.

We’re good friends.
We made a donation to The Lowline in New York to support our friend Dan Barasch to build an underground park in an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side. We supported Kat Galasso’s Kickstarter campaign to relaunch The Floatones at La Mama. And we supported another friend to show support to HIS friend by riding in DC’s Ride to Conquer Cancer.

We (still) love filmmakers.
For the third year in a row we are supporting the True/False Pay the Artists Program to enable the festival to financially support the filmmakers who screen their films at the fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking.

We attended Good Pitch this October and made donations to two of the films presented that day: Whose Streets and Canary in a Coal Mine. Whose Streets is the Ferguson MO story as told by the activists who took to the streets when Michael Brown is murdered by the police. It is “a first-hand look at how the murder of one teenage boy became the last straw for a community under siege.” Canary in a Coal Mine brings attention to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which disproportionately impacts women. (And is being executive produced by our hero Debby Hoffman.)

We love Seattle.
Last year we gave money to KEXP (for the second year in a row) to help them to move into their new studio at the Seattle Center. They made that move this month. This year we’re making our third annual donation to make sure they know how grateful we are to them for helping to make Seattle a great place to call home.

Unfortunately, calling Seattle home continues to become a greater and greater challenge to too many people. For the second year in a row we have made a donation to the Tenants Union of Washington State to support their ability to advocate on behalf of tenants.

We made a donation to the International Rescue Committee in Seattle to welcome refugees who have come to our fair city and allow them to rebuild their lives by providing housing, health care, food, education, and legal and social services.

Finally, we made a donation to our local YWCA, supporting their efforts to empower women who are facing poverty, violence and discrimination in our backyard.

Thank you to everyone who makes our giving possible. Best wishes for the new year.

part of the argument: lgbtq storytelling and social change

part of the argument: lgbtq storytelling and social change

“You think you can change America through film?” – Charlie Rose

“Oh, I don’t know. That’s not even in my job description. Storytelling. Get the story right. Do what you can with the story. Try not to cheat the story. Whatever happens after that is in the purview of other people. I felt that way as a reporter; I feel that way doing this. But every now and then you get to be a part of an argument, and that feels good.” – David Simon

 

Despite desperate efforts to create the next “viral” video or to fund a social impact film that turns the policy agenda on its head, the contribution of storytelling to social change is cumulative–and it takes time.

A single story can evoke passion, promote empathy, teach, enrage, or empower its audience to take action–but it alone will not change the world. But every now and then you get to be part of an argument, and that feels good.

One TYPE of story can’t change the world either; we cannot live on didactic social issue films alone. Pop culture–even the really bad stuff–contributes, as do the personal stories we tell each other (online and IRL) or that we hear on the news. Art and music inspire us to see the world differently, or to be willing to do so.

Even a simple photograph can make a difference. The image of Michael Brown’s father yelling in pain at his son’s funeral, sweat soaking the front of his shirt, must have led even some of the most callous among us to realize something must be done to stop the war on young black men in this country.

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Over the past few years, the acceleration in the movement to ensure the civil rights of the LGBTQ community has been remarkable–even dizzying at times. While in the past decade there has been a sense that progress—particularly marriage equality—would come simply through the passage of time and a change in generational leadership, many of us still presumed the “inevitable” was years down the road.

Without a doubt, this progress can be attributed to a whole bunch of activists across this country, busting their asses and using their smarts to change the minds of policymakers and judges. But storytelling has been an accelerant to the pace of change, including the personal “coming out” stories so many have had the courage to tell at the risk of rejection, discrimination, and even violence.

In a 2013 Pew survey of LGBT Americans, 70 percent expressed their belief that “knowing someone who is LGBT helps a lot in terms of making society more accepting of the LGBT population.” When President Obama sat down with Robin Roberts on ABC News in 2012, becoming the first sitting U.S. President publicly to voice his support for marriage equality, he shared that dinner table conversations with his daughters Sasha and Malia about their friends’ same sex parents were what contributed to his changing views.

It is more difficult to hate when the object of your hostility is your child, your colleague, your neighbor, your teacher or, it seems, the parents of your children’s friends.

We created a timeline, LGBTQ Storytelling and Social Change, out of our own curiosity. We knew that storytelling – personal and pop culture – had played a role in progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, but we wanted to map the progression and to see the relationship over time of storytelling, social milestones and policy change. From Henry Gerber to Jennicet Gutierrez, from The Ladder to How to Survive a Plague, from President Eisenhower’s policy to ban “homosexuals” from working for the federal government to the U.S. Senate’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we’ve done that.

It is a timeline that reveals small steps and giant leaps forward as well as frequent and devastating falls backward. It is, oddly, a testament to both impatience (with injustice) and patience (with the long haul). It reflects that, even as gay characters became more prominent in films and television, gay people of color did not. It reflects the actions of presidents and other policy makers, bigots, activists, writers, actors, filmmakers, designers, magazine editors, murderers, artists, reality show stars, judges, musicians, athletes, and Dear Abby.

The triumphs remind us of how much has been done to get us to where we are and of the people who carried the burden, both the names in bold and those who will never be adequately acknowledged. They also remind us of how much more work still needs to be done.

We can celebrate love, but we can’t allow a wedding veil to block our view of the discriminatory practices that prevent many gay and transgender people–particularly people of color–from getting or keeping jobs or finding a home.

We can smile at a photo of Laverne Cox with the President and First Lady, but we shouldn’t forget to weep in response to the transgender women who have been murdered in the United States since the beginning of 2015: Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Papi Edwards, Bri Golec, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Penny Proud, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, India Clarke, K.C. Haggard, Amber Monroe, Shade Schuler, Ashton O’Hara, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, and Tamara Dominiguez.

The process of putting the timeline together made it clear how much we have (and want) to learn. We’re confident that, despite our efforts, we’ve left things out that should be included. If you think there’s a story we should add to our timeline, let us know. Email me at alison AT whatisaggregate DOT com. Tell us a story.

storytelling, time and grit

storytelling, time and grit

How long does it take to tell a story that makes an impact?

Susan B. Anthony’s speaking tour in 1873 in support of women’s voting rights brought her to 50 towns and villages in upstate New York, where she repeatedly delivered a 533-word speech calling for women’s rights to the suffrage.

In the 90-minute documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” director David Gelb was able to display the sushi master’s life, passion, and perfection in such a powerful way that we connected with someone we otherwise may have never known or noticed.

With a 110-character tweet and popular Facebook page, online activist and former Google executive Wael Ghonim (@Ghonim) was launched to the forefront of Egypt’s anti-government movement.

And in one instant, photographer Marc Riboud captured the 1960s struggles of war and peace in the iconic photograph “La Jeune Fille a la Fleur.”

We all have a story to tell and now there are stages that encourage every person to bring their own story to life…in five minutes.

In May, I attended the 27th session of Ignite Seattle. Ignite is an event that brings together local storytellers and gives them each five minutes to share 20 slides that flip through automatically every 15 seconds. I heard stories about harvesting bugs for people to eat, drawing comics and saving the world, mastering balance on a unicycle, connecting with kids through video games, the human experience of live-translated calls, the power of lone travel, and an experiment in saying “Yes” for 30 days.

As I listened, I thought about how storytelling takes true grit. It takes passion and powerful motivation, and it requires a continued sense of exploration. Storytelling is about being curious and sometimes getting into trouble. Particularly in the social issue space, it’s important to be disruptive and provocative without being irresponsible. Storytelling is about creating an emotional connection. It’s about moving people to laugh, cry, smile or to remind them how to savor life. Good stories impart some sort of wisdom that empowers people to think—to think differently, think deeper, or think at all. Stories are kept in words, images, digital manifestations, film reels, and 140-character tweets. They are spoken, sung, written, filmed, recorded, photographed, painted, and designed. Stories can be told in five minutes, they can be told in two hours, and some stories never end. This is, ultimately, the magic of storytelling.

measure of all things at true/false

measure of all things at true/false

Earlier this month, Aggregate was honored to sponsor two performances of Sam Green’s live documentary, The Measure of All Things, at the True/False Film Fest.

Thank you to True/False and photographer, Whitney Buckner, for the photos from the Friday night performance.

Sam was joined onstage for both performances by musicians Brendan Canty, Todd Griffin and Catherine McRae, who perform the live film score.

Check out the dates for future performances of The Measure of All Things. You might just see one of us there.

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Copy of TF15-The Measure of All Things-WB-5
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sharing our good fortune

sharing our good fortune

Selecting the organizations with which we share our good fortune is a group effort that includes our full time staff as well as the collaborators with whom we work. My request to them is that they share ideas that reflect who we are as a company: we want to support organizations that are unapologetic about their passion, who use storytelling as a strategy to achieve their goals, or have simply reached us with a powerful story about their work.

I’m proud of the people who have joined me in building Aggregate and of the ideas they shared this year. I hope you’ll consider joining us in supporting the following organizations.

We believe in justice.

We have now made our third annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights, which provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails and improves legal representation for people who are low-income. We made the donation in the name of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

After reading about Lenzi Sheible, the 20-year old founder of Fund Texas Choice in The New York Times, we felt compelled to make a donation to enable her to do her important work. Because of legislation passed in the state of Texas—as well as in a number of other states—women often must travel long distances to access abortion services and many cannot afford to do so. So our donation will support Lenzi and Fund Texas Choice to cover those costs.

In July, we paid a Detroit resident’s overdue water bill  to prevent their water from being turned off thanks to the quick organizing and deft communication skills of the Detroit Water Project. We admire them for jumping in to address a need and for ensuring others both understood what was happening and that they could do something to help.

And in September, we made a donation to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation after they successfully worked to enable the exoneration of two men—Henry McCollum and Leon Brown—who had been on death row for 30 years in North Carolina for a rape and murder they did not commit.

We love filmmakers. 

Because 1) we like working with Josh Simon, 2) because criminal justice should be just, and 3) because Josh asked, we made a donation to support the production of This Place is Dirty. This new documentary—currently in production—is about Jon Burge, a former Chicago Police detective who was convicted of torturing criminal suspects for nearly twenty years.

For the second year in a row we are supporting the True/False Film Fest‘s Pay the Artist program to enable the festival to support the filmmakers who screen their films at the Fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking. (We’ll  be announcing additional support for the festival soon, so stay tuned.)

We made additional donations to support the re-release of Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer as well as the Sarah Jacobsen Film Grant, which is a grant for young women filmmakers “whose work embodies some of the things that Sarah stood for: a fierce DIY approach to filmmaking, a radical social critique, and a thoroughly underground sensibility.”

We think young people deserve better.

This year was also the third year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to LGBTQ youth. And for the third year in a row, we made the donation in the name of Spencer Cox, the great AIDS activist who died in 2012.

Closer to home, the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle works with homeless and street youth to enable them “to experience creativity and success through art.” We supported them this year to buy a new press. They reached that goal, but they have countless additional needs, so we’re confident that would appreciate your support as well.

We also gave to the national organization, Girls on the Run, which uses running as a strategy for promoting self-esteem, teamwork and a positive body image for young girls.

We love Jay Smooth.

We made a donation to WBAI‘s hip hop show Underground Railroad, which is hosted by our favorite video blogger Jay Smooth. Jay was such an important and smart voice on race relations this year, someone to whom we looked to make sense of a series of events and a world that often made no sense at all.

We love Seattle.

We also gave money to our hometown public radio station KEXP (for the second year in a row) to support their efforts to build a new home in Seattle. As I said last year, they are a significant contributor to making Seattle the amazing place it is and we’re grateful to them for filling our office with music every day.

KEXP is building a new home at a time when the real estate market in Seattle has gone apeshit, leaving many of our lower income neighbors in situations where they are paying an unlivable percentage of their income to put a roof over their heads. It’s a heady time to live in Seattle—if you are among the privileged who can still afford it. So, we’re supporting the Tenants Union of Washington State to enable them to continue to be advocates for tenants’ rights. Thanks to the fabulous Ansel Herz at The Stranger for pointing us in their direction.

We owe it to veterans (especially Ryan).

My friend Ryan Friedrichs came home safe this year after serving for the past three years in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan. To express our gratitude for and admiration of Ryan, we made a donation to the Veteran Artist Program, which has a mission to “foster, encourage and promote veteran artists.”

We love food.

Finally, we gave to L.A. Kitchen, which “reclaims local, healthy food that would otherwise be discarded, training men and women who are unemployed for jobs and providing healthy meals.” L.A. Kitchen was founded recently by Robert Egger, who founded D.C. Kitchen 24 years ago as the first “community kitchen.”

Best wishes to everyone for the new year. Give when you can.