Thursday, December 1, 2016

Singing Your Fight Song A Capella

If there was ever an anthem for feminine power the summer of 2016, it was "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten. I wasn't really surprised when my girls seemed to like it and decided it would be good to put on their playlist. At the time, Hillary Clinton was riding high in the polls after the debates and celebrities were banding together to sing Fight Song in a glorious YouTube video masterminded by actress Elizabeth Banks.

I went to buy the song on iTunes, but was surprised to find two versions. I listened to the most popular one and guessed my daughters would want the highly-produced radio version with the big drums. Then, I listened to the acoustic version and knew that this was the one I had to have for me.

I know it's inspiring to hear the thumping bass and sing at the top of your lungs. I like that, too. Yet my experience is that in advocacy and in much of life, the meaningful victories are the result of unglamorous, unwitnessed grunt work. And that's when we have to sing our little fight song all alone to ourselves to keep going.

When I think of these two versions of the same song, it reminds me of running a marathon. The radio version is how it feels to be flying by all the crowds cheering you in the home stretch. It feels like a million high-fives all at once. But here's the thing. You will never sing that victory version of the song unless you're able to sing your fight song alone when the crowd's not singing with you. That acoustic version with the quavering voice is like all the hard, early morning, rainy day runs you do alone to prepare for the Boston Marathon. It feels like hosting an advocacy meeting when not one person shows up. It feels like your 20th form letter from your Congressman telling you he won't support your legislation. 

These Ugandan school children are reasons I fight.
They are fighting every day. Why can't I?
The hard truth is that if you can't keep going when no one else is physically in the room cheering for you, you might never make it to the finish line. That might not be good news, but it's reality. You have to supply your own drumbeat most of the time even when it seems like you're not making a difference at all. The most worthwhile successes don't come without the perseverance and hard work. When the going gets rough, RESULTS advocates remind ourselves of that with the shorthand phrase "Dirt work, dirt work, dirt work..miracle." You have to hold fast to the reasons you are fighting at all. As an advocate, cling to your motivations for starting the work and your memories of who you are fighting for in the first place. 

And know're not completely alone. You're never totally alone. I believe in you. You can do it. And sometime when we are eventually in the same room, we'll sing our fight songs together.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Anti-Poverty Mom's 2016 Shop Local Gift Picks

It seems my social media streams are full of notices to boycott a whole lot of businesses because of their ties to political figures or climate-harming interests. It's probably reflective of how contentious and negative 2016 has been for our country. Some I agree with, others I think are a stretch. But here's my two cents: No matter how you feel about Ivanka Trump or global warming, you really can't go wrong by buying local for your holiday gift shopping!

Now is exactly the time of year to think about local shopping before you're tempted to go ga-ga over Black Friday or CyberMonday after Thanksgiving. Do NOT forget about Small Business Saturday! Take a moment to think about a few important ways that shopping local is a great idea:
  1. You'll cut down on wasteful shipping materials and fuel used when ordering online
  2. You can support small business owners and get to know them personally
  3. More of your money stays in your community. Significantly more of your money goes to other local businesses, service providers, farms, and charities
  4. You can help create jobs in your own community. If the shop does well, they'll need more employees!
  5. You'll can support local artisans do what they love and help your community be more beautiful and unique
While I can't give everyone a customized list of independent, local merchants, I'll leave a few of mine for inspiration in categories that are great for gift shopping. Maybe you can find some near you that are similar? Even if you decide to order from my local merchants, you'll still likely be steering free of whatever it is folks are saying to boycott and you'll be helping my local St Louis community.

Photo Credit:
Apparel: Bravely
Bravely is a new business in St Louis and I intend to get a few presents from here even though it's not a brick and mortar store yet. "Bravely is an apparel company designed to employ and empower women recovering from sexual exploitation and addiction. Our shirts and accessories send messages of hope, love, and courage. When you wear and use Bravely products, you are sharing those messages with the world and changing lives while you do it."

Bath & Beauty: KIND Soap Company
KIND has a location in Webster Groves, MO that I love to browse. There are a few places you can buy products in other states (IL, TX, CO), but all their products are made here in the St Louis area. You can click on the link to see their philosophy of keeping bad stuff out of our bodies and out of the earth. My personal favorite product is the Shea Luxe Creme bubble bath. Oh...look at that picture...I'm almost out again. Time to go back! I also like their solid perfume. They sell lockets at the store and will fill the locket up with the solid perfume scent of your choice. You can even bring it back for refills!

Photo credit: Ash and Griffin
Artisans: Ash and Griffin Pottery
I've talked about these ladies before for a Mother's Day post, but I'm going to mention them again because they do an annual Winter Studio sale (party?) before the holidays. If your local artists do that, you should definitely go meet the artists, mingle with other people who dig the same stuff you do, buy stuff, and eat snacks! I bought a mug like this last year and I love how it beautifully draws attention away from the fact that I might actually be drinking a can of Coca-Cola for breakfast.

Vintage Antiques: Retro 101/Cherry Bomb
Retro 101 seems to be so retro that they don't have a website! So, I gave you their Facebook page link instead. This vintage store is fun and hip to browse around in. Just about any antique/vintage clothing store is going be a greener choice than buying new and they will have weird, one-of-a-kind gifts at a very reasonable price. Like this retro Japanese robe that became part of my Doc Brown Halloween costume. And yeah, sometimes, I may walk around the house in it drinking Coke for breakfast out of a pottery mug. Maybe.

Our Camp Fire field trip to Open Books
Used Book Stores: Open Books
Ok, this one isn't in St Louis, but it was local to me when I lived in Chicago and feel like giving props to my favorite used book store I've ever come across! This one is 'specially special because Open Books is not only a place to shop, but its also a nonprofit venture that provides literacy experiences for thousands of readers each year. You can bring in all your old books to donate and buy new ones. The proceeds go towards teaching kids and adults in Chicago how to read. Even if your local used book store is not a non-profit, it's still great to shop there because it's a very sustainable choice to use books already in print than create new ones. You might even find rare antique books or author signed ones!

Museums: The Magic House
I consider giving a membership or a gift certificate for admission to a museum to be local shopping, too. I  chose the Magic House to feature because this IS a mom-blog and it is a wonderful place of learning in St Louis. Where else could my daughter learn to install a play muffler on the underside of a car? Lots of museums provide learning programs for under-priveleged kids in addition to being fun for families. Your local art museum is making sure that culture and creativity are alive and well in difficult times when we need inspiration and beauty. Your local science museum is helping kids and adults become educated voters and citizens. A history museum like the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, IL helps us understand the failings of the past and inspires hope for the future. A gift of museum admission is the gift of education...and that is priceless. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

"How to Respond With Kindness" OR "How Not Be a Jerk Online"

Show of metaphorical cyberspace hands, many of you have seen something you disagreed with on your Twitter or Facebook feeds since Election Day? How many of you have responded on your own feed or commented on someone else's just to have it blow up into a vitriolic back and forth that left you feeling much worse than if you'd never checked your social media at all? I think it's happened to most of us. 

I find myself thinking about some of the rules of thumb I've created for myself in order to be the kind of person I want to be online. I'm sharing them with you, not to be preachy, but to remind myself to stick to my personal guidelines. Facebook comments are rarely a place where thoughtful exchange of ideas can change ideas that are fundamental to personal identities. Yet I hope my suggestions can help others navigate social media in a positive and constructive way.
"I see you, Mommy"

#1 Write as if your kids were reading over your shoulder.
You know the old response to sexual harassers that goes, "What would your mother say if she knew you were saying that?" I think we moms should ask ourselves, "What would your children say if they knew what you wrote?" Set the same good example in your on-line life that you set for them in-person. Besides, I'm not convinced that everything we do online ever goes away. The kids will probably find it eventually. 

#2 Remember there is a real person on the other end.
The Golden Rule? It's a good one. Paraphrased: "Treat others the way you want them to treat you." Would your comment make you feel horrible if it were directed at you? Is it more likely to turn people against your cause than bring people towards it? If you answer "yes" to either of those, you probably don't want to be hitting "send" on that nugget of hostility.

Or look at this tree.

#3 Stop. Breathe. Reflect before you type another word.
Is your heart beating faster as if you've just been physically threatened? This happens to me, too. Especially if someone has just attacked one of my core beliefs as in..."Women should not be in Congress," or "You are an over-privileged soccer mom." (I'm an over-previleged FINE ARTS mom, thanks) That accelerated pulse means you're entering an emotional area of the brain where your logic and long-term thinking are suppressed. You should measure your next words very, very carefully. Take a walk and look at a tree. Eat a piece of chocolate to release some serotonin brain chemicals to make you feel happier. Enforce a cooling down period on your comment. OR, just leave it alone. (see next paragraph)

#4 Don't make blanket insults.
Refrain from saying things like, "People who think that are..." or "You're all a bunch of..." As we'll see in an example below, it's hard to back up from that to say "Oh, well, I didn't mean YOU specifically." Yeah, you did. You said it and we can all read it right in front of us.

#5 Consider removing yourself from the equation if that's more beneficial.
Sean Astin, a celebrity activist who actually spends a lot of time online talking to his followers about controversial subjects, had this to say to a crowd at a RESULTS conference about getting involved in an unhealthy back and forth in a comments section. You know, those times when you want to say something positive someone and the internet trolls swoop in to attack? "Just drop your happy bomb and move on." Astin is always up for a thoughtful exchange of ideas, but I notice he's not above blocking people who just attack repeatedly with nothing constructive to say. Ending your engagement in the conversation is an option you have online that you don't have in real life and it's okay to exercise that choice. 

#6 Recognize the other person's feelings as valid
Are you still willing to be in the conversation and it seems the other person is really exchanging ideas instead of hurling insults? My favorite opening phrase when I'm trying to diffuse something online is, "I can tell that you are very passionate about this." It isn't mean. It doesn't give an inch of concession from my position. It states that I'm listening to them and I see what they are feeling without using the dangerous "I know how your feel" that leads to badness (What do you mean you know how I feel? You don't know how I feel! How dare you!!! etc, etc) A simple acknowledgement of emotion can be followed up with the next suggestion below...

#7 If possible, invite the other person to join you in making the world better!
This might be a radical thought, but if you can find any common ground at all, ask them to attend a meeting for a group your involved in or to join an organization that supports your common ground. For instance, both Trump and Clinton supporters were interested in a fair election. Inviting the other person to be a legitimate election volunteer (not just a weird illegal lurker) might have been a place for common work. I often invite people to check out non-partisan groups I'm in that work on hunger or poverty. Even if someone doesn't believe in Food Stamp assistance, they might be willing to volunteer at a local food bank. Sometimes, I ask them to come to lobby with me or join RESULTS although no one online has ever taken me up on that yet. (Hope lives on!) It may not always be possible or appropriate due to geography or other circumstances, but I every time I do it, it diffuses the situation because the other person realizes one of three things:
  1. I'm actually suggesting both an in person meeting and WORK, which is uncomfortable for habitual on-line ranters and they don't wish to engage anymore
  2. I actually do respect their viewpoint enough to want to work with them on a deeper level
  3. We're actually on the same side in the big picture
Want to see it in practice? Yesterday, on a friend's Facebook page, I saw her advocating for asking the electoral college to reject President-Elect Trump. A woman (who posed with my friend in an "I Voted! Vote like a girl!" selfie less than a week ago) was pressing her about this position. The debate got rough with this friend stating an opposite view about the electoral college saying, "shame on anyone who would think otherwise". I jumped in to commend my friend's bravery in defending a position when a friend was calling her lazy and shameful. Of course, that person engaged with me. 

Okay, if I had to do that again, I would have edited out the "Have a blessed, shame-free day" line because it doesn't read off the screen well. In my defense, I'd just come from church and I really wanted her to feel free of the shame she was casting on others in addition to just stopping the casting. But I could have stopped my comment one sentence earlier and it would have been better. Luckily, she kept talking and it could lead to the place where I could employ suggestions #6 and #7.

Her willingness to check out the weblink for RESULTS is about the best thing I could hope for, so I ended my involvement right there. If you can come to an understanding, everyone feels heard, and people walk away thinking there could be a possibility of working together...that is a best case scenario. It won't always work that way, so don't forget about option #5 about removing yourself from the troll equation, but why not hope for the best?

Remember, we have a wide array of emoticons these days. Let's try to use more than just the sad and angry ones!

How have you been dealing with 
social media dissent in your circles?