Monday, June 10, 2019

Relationships Are Why I Keep Going

An old advocacy question is popping up everywhere in my life with new urgency. "How do we keep doing our work without getting overwhelmed?" It was alarming to me when two women that I admire very much reached out to me about the same time from different parts of the country asking me how I managed to stay positive and inspired. Alarming because these two women are people admire and hold in my mind when things get rocky for me! Yesterday, as the CARE Action grassroots staff took the stage at the CARE Action Conference in Washington D.C., it was their very first question from an audience full of dedicated activists.

As I've wrestled with this question, I found it helpful that Maxine Thomas, friend and board member at RESULTS, had broken down that larger question into smaller questions. I found them easier to think about. I answered her questions for myself and noticed that my answers centered around a theme of "relationship":

What is your motivation? My relationship to my daughters and my desire to build a better world for them. My relationship to friends facing economic hurdles, loss of freedoms, and intolerance while I fear for their futures.
What slows you down? Being around people who are angry and negative in a non-productive way. As my fellow CARE advocate Megan Mayle shared today, "Anger is emotionally expensive." It takes a lot out energy out of me to hear people repeatedly complain without any intention of offering, searching for, or working toward solutions. I could be using that energy to take positive actions to create positive change.
What do you do to manage the things that plague you? Spend time with great people so we can deepen relationships and inspire each other. I organize opportunities at my home where I invite activists I look up to and create positive things for us to do together. Last week, I hosted a "Renew, Connect, and Act" event where everyone could do two acts of gratitude (writing thank you's for staff of area non-profits for women's health and LGBTQIA issues), two acts of advocacy (writing to Congress about gender-based violence and women's health), and two acts of volunteerism (bringing potluck dinners to refugee families or serving in St. Louis communities hard hit by gun violence). I'm also always on the prowl for chances to meet new advocates I can learn from!

In fact, it is that last sentence that leads me to be at the CARE conference now.  I know that I'm making a lot of new connections that will hopefully grow into new friendships to inspire me throughout the year. Meeting new people who are taking a stand against human trafficking and child marriage is a real boost for me right now. As a bonus, I expect to see a few familiar faces of other change agents I admire on Capitol Hill tomorrow as Bread for the World and the United Nations Foundation volunteers are going to be there, too, sharing many of the same messages around protecting our poverty-focused foreign aid budget.

I'm especially buoyed by meeting advocates more toward the beginning of their journeys who are full of the same sort of energy and enthusiasm I had when I came to D.C. for the first time in 2007. Sharing laughs and long conversations with my Missouri lobby partner, Ally Melvin, amidst our serious legislative preparations has helped bring me back to a mindset before I started to feel burned out from a decade of working on the same problems. It helps me to remember that the problems are getting better. The budget requests we're working on are much higher than they used to be and making important progress. Since 2011, in countries where the US works with local and women farmers...
  • 23.4 million people have been lifted out of poverty
  • 5.2 million families no longer suffer from hunger
  • 3.4 million kids are free of stunting

Looking at the evidence of the impact of our work and helping someone else get on the path of activism has me feeling optimistic about the world. True, not everything is rosy and we have a lot of work to do. But as the Dr. Seuss' Lorax says:

UNLESS someone CAREs a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better. It's not!
So tell me...What keeps YOU going?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Raising Harry, Katniss, and Tris

I've written before on World Moms Network about the activism of the teens who started March for Our Lives to take on gun violence, but I didn't address it on this blog because of the poverty focus of this particular site. However, as their youth movement grows even beyond the issue of gun violence and into areas like climate change, I have a few things to say since the topics of advocacy and motherhood are firmly within the scope of my musings here.

I continue to hear comments of surprise from my fellow parents about how "Kids Today" are getting so involved in activism. In general, we're seeing an uptick of kids being more aware of government, advocacy, and social justice. I pick up on this general feeling of "Where is this all coming from?" As usual when kid behavior is involved, the question can be answered: From us. From the situations our generation created. From the things we left undone. And...from the things we parents ourselves embrace in movies and book/movie franchises like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Divergent

How could anyone be all that surprised when thousands of kids raised on a steady diet of ethical rebellion began standing up for their generation and our world? We reap what we sow. I, for one, have sown these seeds intentionally and delightfully. I saw what J.K. Rowling was telling us about taking a stand against racism and fascism. I imagined what it would be like to raise the three fingers of my left hand in salute to Katniss Everdeen of the the Hunger Games in her fight against a system keeping a population distracted and locked in it's economic disparity. I cheered for Tris from Divergent, who broke away from her family to be true to herself and eventually lead a rebellion for those trapped in a social experiment in post-apocalyptic, future Chicago.

I suppose there were many parents who saw only stories of magic and adventure. Famously, there were still others who missed the point and boycotted the Potter franchise because they thought it was anti-religious and promoted witchcraft. But I've long been a fan of fantasy and sci-fi fiction. I love it's power to both take us away from a world of problems while simultaneously holding up a mirror to our society and asking, "Who do YOU want to be in your story?" The stories never show us a literal roadmap for history. Rather, they are inspirational for the spirit.
"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." 
-- G.K. Chesterton

The Parkland students who founded the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence have been open about their view of themselves as Dumbledore's Army. And if that is the role my children and their generation cast for themselves, then I cast myself as Order of the Phoenix member Molly Weasley who feeds them, tends to their hurts, worries about them, and also plays backup in case a LaStrange shows up. I am NOT here to take the baton (or wand) away from anyone. We adults had our chance alone. The body count from school gun violence continues to mount. The Order led and fought, but did not finish the job. Now, we must walk beside Harry Potter, Hermoine Granger, Ron Weasley, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky as their partners - not their betters.

Look what happened when a group of these kids were suddenly thrust into a battleground at their school as deadly as the Battle of Hogwarts. Instead of being consumed by their victimhood, they were inspired by the Boy Who Lived to see themselves as the Ones Who Lived and could become Dumbledore's Army. They started building a diverse and inclusive movement by organizing with other kids across the country who had also experienced gun violence. They grew in fame as they took the battle to their own larger than life Voldemort - the NRA - and became household names even as they craved the time to heal. In Emma Gonzalez's own words in her New York Times Op-ed, "All of us know what it feels like to be Harry Potter now." And now a public tide is turning as more adults are following their lead to reach out to Congress. State by state and even in the U.S. House of Representatives, gun violence bills are starting to gain support.

Not all the authors in our bookshelves promoting change gave us heroes and heroines rising up in rebellion. I knew Rick Riordon was masterfully spreading tolerance and acceptance by giving us a sweet love story between male demigods Nico di Angelo and Will Solace several books into the Percy Jackson series once we were all invested in the residents of Camp Half Blood. I knew Riordan was educating ME about gender fluidity in the Magnus Chase series as he grew the relationship between Magnus and Alex Fierro just as I knew how important it was to give Magnus a history of homelessness and a best friend who was deaf. Riordan continued to spread a message of tolerance in "The Ship of the Dead" by giving Magnus' character the ability to defeat his enemy with love and positivity, not force and negativity. 

Now...with all that said. I will have to eat a little bit of crow if one of my kids turns out to be a criminal mastermind like Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, but as my kids and I read the series to the end, I think we - and Artemis - are all gonna be okay. If you're not sure what I mean by that...well...your adventure awaits :)

Monday, December 31, 2018

What are you doing AFTER New Year's Eve?

Maybe it's much too early in the game

Oh, but I thought I'd ask you just the same

What are you doing New Year's?

New Year's eve?

I think I'm drawn to the song "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" because it captures a mood that is both melancholy and hopeful at the same time. I think that's a pretty human condition. To be hesitant, a little pessimistic, but still optimistic enough to know there could be a better outcome for us...and to actually take the leap and ask the question that might change things! The song is about romance, but I think those emotions apply to how a lot of people look at the world in general, too.

We want to better ourselves and have more in our lives. We see suffering and injustice and that makes us want the world to be better for others. We want the Earth itself to be healthier. But too often we listen to messages telling us we're too small to take on big problems. My 2019 wish for everyone is for all of us to put aside those misgivings and fan flames from those little sparks of hope that lead us to take leaps, ask questions, and jump into action. 

This week, I ran into a 22-year old recent grad who asked me about a hat for a charity that I was wearing. I told him the story about my involvement with the Every Ride Challenge to benefit Give Kids the World Village. He loved the story and expressed to me that he wished that he could do something to give back. He said he admired me because he just didn't know what to do or how to start. He's not alone. Not by a long shot. My advice to him wasn't very could probably be summed up with the Nike slogan "Just Do It." But I did offer him a tip to get started: Join up with a organization working to address the problem you want to fix.

It's pretty hard to take on the big problems in life like poverty or climate change by yourself, but the great news is that you don't have to. Thousands of organizations exist that you can join right now. Like, today! Plugging in with one of them automatically connects you to like-minded people who care about the same cause that you do. 

Sam Daley-Harris, founder of RESULTS, wrote some encouraging words in an Orlando-Sentinel op-ed called "A New Year's resolution worth keeping: Join and organization, make a difference." He said:

"So here’s a radical idea. Embrace a huge goal that lights you up, perhaps a goal like this one: I’m going to join a group focused on enacting climate change solutions or a group that works to (you can fill in the blanks here) and I’m going to stay with it for a year, no matter what, but only with an organization that will take me seriously and help me experience some serious success. Then see what your life is like as a result. If you select something you truly care about and join an organization that really empowers its members (warning, those groups are hard to find, but I’ll list a few below), you’ll be surprised by your new sense of power."

Far too often we make New Year's resolutions that we don't keep. Joining other people wanting to make the change that you also want to see in the world will greatly improve your chances of sticking with it. Which of reminds me of a great African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

In short, I encourage everyone to team up this year to make the world a better, more caring place. Whatever cause you want to take on, shed the excuses and jump in!