Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beyond Voting...How YOU Can Influence an Election

Me, at the Hillary for American HQ in St Louis
Usually, I spend my space in this blog talking about advocacy and the ways we can influence government in-between elections. It IS election season, however, so I want to talk about how to influence the election beyond simply voting.

I was walking along with a mom-friend talking about the presidential election. Like most people, we were airing general grievances about the election news being everywhere you turn. Finally, she made the offhand comment, "Yeah, but after the primaries, there's nothing you can do about it until November." Ahhhh...she should know better than to lob an easy pitch like that at me! I love my friend very, very much, but that kind of attitude is exactly how elections are lost. Of COURSE there are a lot of things an average person can do about the election! 

My candidate, Hillary Clinton, isn't a quitter and neither am I. So, here's my list of easy things we can do to help Hillary (or any of your favorite down-ballot candidates) win:

#1 Talk to your friends about why you like your candidate. I know this sounds simple, but I know it's actually not easy for a lot of people. Yet it's so important! Person-to-person interactions are at the heart of political campaigns. Especially in a battleground state, your personal endorsement may be the thing that swings the vote of someone who respects you. And, as Lindy West said in her opinion piece in The Guardian, it's not enough to talk about why the opponent is bad. We need to talk about why Hillary Clinton is good! For me, it's her lifelong commitment to the health and well-being of women and children around the world. As an advocate, I've fought for HIV/AIDS funding, for girls' global education, and against child-killing diseases like pneumonia. Hillary Clinton has been right along side me on these issues as a senator, Secretary of State, and through the Clinton Foundation. Her tenacity for the issues I'm passionate about is probably the most compelling thing about her for me.

#2 Donate money. Yeah, It's a bummer that money makes the political world go 'round, but it does. The good news is that if you feel intimidated taking other more public actions, this might be an easy thing to do. Give $10 or $100 or $1000. Whatever is meaningful to you! Remember how far Bernie Sanders got with an average gift of $27? The little amounts can really add up and make a big difference. 

Bring your laptop and your cell phone. Modern
campaign work centers around these tools!
#3 Volunteer. How about getting out of your own space and meeting other people who share your enthusiasm? I find that is really valuable for my peace of mind when I live in an area with many people who do not share my opinions. Here are some of the things our volunteers do here at Hillary for America HQ in St Louis: 
  • Phonebanking (calling prospective voters to gather data and get out the vote)
  • Data entry
  • Answering phones
  • Door to door canvassing in other states
  • Calling other volunteers to remind them of their phone banking or canvassing shifts
  • Recruiting volunteers at community events like farmer's markets and festivals 
  • Voter registration
You can be in the trenches of making things, sometimes there is cake! Aaaand....if you volunteer for Hillary, sometimes actor Sean Astin will randomly show up!!! 

#4 Promote your candidate on social media. For people who regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, this might be the easiest thing to do. You don't have to get in the middle of national-level back and forth like Twitter heavyweight Peter Daou. Just tweet positive messages about what your candidate is doing or pictures of the action at your local campaign headquarters. Blogging (as I'm doing right now) is even better! Be sure to use all the local and national hashtags (like #ImWithHer #ClintonKaine #HillaryForMO ) when you tweet.

St Louis could really use some soda, bottled water, treats for
volunteers, garbage cans, and - oddly - a helium tank.
#5 Donate things. Hey, how does that cake magically get there to feed volunteers? Ah, someone DONATED it! Phone bankers are fueled by snack foods, soda, and water. Every headquarters probably has an ever-changing list of things they need from office chairs to bins to markers to bottled water.

There you go! Surely, there is something on this list you feel comfortable doing. And, even better, pick an additional one you feel a little uncomfortable doing and ask a friend to do it with you. After all, we're "Stronger Together" !!
Photo: (you
can buy these for $5 and they have braille on them)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Kiva Loan for Water

Here's a confession of mine: Sometimes, in an effort to get out a timely blog for a particular poverty awareness day, I'll write up a blog with suggestions for action before I've taken any concrete action myself. Now, it could be said that the writing of a blog is an action in itself. Nevertheless, it makes me feel like a bit of a phony if I haven't walked the walk before I publish a post. Alas...this is what deadlines to do the best of poverty-fighters from time to time. 

So, it was a whole week after the actual World Water Day last March, that I re-read my own blog to inspire myself and practice what I preach. Even though making a Kiva microfinance loan wasn't on my list of suggested ideas the week prior, I thought I'd head to to see if there were any water related projects I could help with. Kiva lets you give a loan as small as $25 to someone in extreme poverty, so that person can invest your money in a project that will both improve his or her life and allow a system to pay you back. I knew exactly what kind of project I wanted to fund this time. I wanted to lend to a mother for a water well or pump. Kiva did not disappoint!

This is the description for a loan that I found for a mom in Cambodia:
"Hay is a 56 years old married woman. She lives with her husband and 5 children in Ou Sangkae Village, Mien Commune, Prey Chhor District, Kampong Cham Province, where she operates a farming business. She has been a farmer for since 1985 and earns approximately USD $5.00 per day.

This year, the weather in Cambodia is too hot and it lacks rain. To handle this problem and to help her further develop her farming business, Hay is taking a loan Kiva from HKL to buy a water pump, which will be used to carry the water into the rice fields. Hay will continue working in her business in order to boost income for her family and provide them a better quality of life.

She is thankful to all lenders for their generous support"

A loan of $500 helped Hay to buy a water pump. I was proud to be the fifteenth funder, the one who fulfilled that last $25 to make her project take flight. That was five months ago. As of today, she has paid back 22% of her loan from us. I have no doubt that she will pay all of it back in the predicted 20 months. In the ten or so years I've been a Kiva lender, every single loan has been paid back to me in full. I'm fine without my 25 bucks for as long as it takes. In fact, truth be told, I'd be okay without that money at all. But I know it's also important to Hay and thousands of others like her that she have the means to pay back then loan as a businesswoman, not a charity case. When she pays it back, she's going to feel her own worth...and I can turn that money around and fund someone else's dream.

I have faith that the pump is moving life-giving water to life-giving crops and helping her family to survive. My hope - and Hay's - is that this loan will put her family on the path to moving out of poverty with dignity. 

Have you ever given a Kiva loan? 
If so, what kind of project did you help fund?
If not...what are you waiting for?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Strong Women of Jeju Island

This traditional Korean statue of a Jeju Island woman collecting water
also has working water spigots in this sculpture garden.
This summer, I travelled to South Korea with my daughter. Our guide (and Taekwondo instructor!) had the clever foresight to make Jeju Island our first stop. Located 130 km from South Korea's southern coast, the island is the country's largest island, smallest province and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It's perfect for relaxing when you need to readjust your internal clock. We were a few of the 9,000,000 tourists per year who visit this beautiful volcanic island. Geology aside, I found another aspect of the island's reputation to be particularly fascinating. You see, Jeju Island is known for the strength of it's women...leading to the nickname: "The Women's Island."

Wow! Who knew a place like that would exist in a country that struggles in regard to the status of women (particularly in business and politics)? Yet here is a pocket within Korean culture where the strength of women has openly celebrated for generations. On Jeju, women have long been a majority population and held economic power. An article from explains:
"Historically, Jeju has been known as an “island of women” as females outnumbered males, worked alongside men in both agrarian and marine labor, and typically had economic control in their families. Under the rule of the Joseon Dynasty, which exalted Confucianism and firmly elevated men over women, the birth of a daughter was nevertheless a happy occasion in Jeju's coastal villages as she could become a “haenyeo” (diving woman) and thus earn money for her family."
A picture of mannequins in a museum since I was too far away
to get a good shot of the real women doing the real job.
Diving women? Yeah! For centuries, women on Jeju Island called "Haenyeo" have supported their families by harvesting conch, abalone, octopus, and other creatures by hand from the ocean floor. They are a symbol of female independence and strength.

Even today, you can see them diving using no breathing equipment even though they are down for around two minutes as deep as 10 meters underwater.  They dive with masks and lead weights (to make them sink faster) and a round flotation device to hold a net for the harvest. 

It's dangerous work. Between 2009-2014, 40 diving women died. According to the New York Times, the number of these "sea amazons" has dwindled to about 4500 from 26,000 in the 1960's with 84% of them 60 year old or older. Nowadays, younger women on Jeju Island prefer to work in hotels or rental car agency for the tourism industry, but that wasn't available to their grandmothers. Diving offered the women respect and economic freedom to decide where family income was spent. Talk about a working mom!
A mannequin in a museum models the traditional dress of a
woman carrying water.
At first glance, the independence of the Jeju women sounded great to me, but further research revealed that things weren't quite so rosy. There is a local saying - "Better to be born a cow than a woman" - that speaks to the rough and physically grueling life they lived. Even if a woman was out of the water, she still couldn't escape the same job held by millions upon millions of girls and women since the beginning of time...hauling drinking water.

The real deal. These ladies in the photo aren't models!

Before running water was available, islanders obtained drinking water from rain or coastal springs. Women carried water on their backs using earthenware jars strapped in bamboo baskets. Until the 1960's, water in mid-mountain villages (where the water supply was scarce) was collected by girdling a large tree with a belt fashioned of grass, which led the water flowing down the trunk into a jar. 

This image is so important to the culture that stone statues around the island recall the strength of the women who carried the life-sustaining water on their backs for years. My daughter got to try carrying one of the traditional jars herself. She says the jug itself was pretty heavy even when it was completely empty...and she is a strong Taekwondo black belt herself!

My daughter tries out a water jug her size. 

I'm glad I got a chance to learn about the Jeju women alongside my girl. It helped give us a historical perspective of women in a small community within a country we hadn't visited before. 

Gender equality is #5 on the list of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. We simply cannot end poverty without it. Because the basis of so many economies lies on the backs of so impoverished women, we owe it to ourselves to learn about gender roles around the world and support organizations and policies that help women lift themselves and their families up on a path to independence and respect. 

Here are just a few ways to be part of the solution:
  1. Join or donate to BRAC: BRAC takes a holistic approach to ending poverty in several ways including: microfinance, education, healthcare, gender justice and empowerment. They give women the tools they need to take control of their own lives. 
  2. Join or donate to Girl Rising: Girl Rising uses storytelling to inspire action that gets girls into classrooms worldwide. Watch a film on their website and tell your community about why girls' education matters. Sign up to be informed about advocacy actions you can take to help.
  3. Donate to helps bring clean drinking water to communities so that valuable time and energy is not lost when women and girls haul water for their families' daily use. Donating to them provides water infrastructure and supports the advocacy they do as an organization (although I don't think they have an action alert system for citizens to advocate)