Monday, October 11, 2021

#ThisLittleGirlIsMe : A Campaign for International Day of the Girl

Image: A faded newsprint image of Cynthia 
in grade school selling candy for Camp Fire

This little girl, this Camp Fire Girl, is me. Back then, earning patches and singing songs was just a fun thing to do. I didn’t pay attention to how I was also learning about civic engagement, obligation to community, and care for the environment. I grew up and used my math/science skills to earn engineering degrees. But I didn’t anticipate that a far greater success was in store for me to pass my values down to my children and to write a book helping other moms find their civic power to protect all the things I loved as a child. At almost 50, I’m once again embracing the things that were most important to this little girl and making them a priority in my life.

Why am I sharing my story with you?

Because 70% of girls feel more confident about their futures after hearing from women role models. I’m honored to be part of the #thislittlegirlisme campaign initiated by Inspiring Girls International to mark International Day of the Girl 2021, October 11. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Get the Word Out: Letters to the Editor for Non-local Newspapers

Image: Cindy shouting into a megaphone

I know there are great media writers reading my blog who already have good relationships with their local newspapers. Fantastic! My local RESULTS St. Louis group got to that point a few years ago. We were very good at getting letters to the editor (LTE’s) published in newspapers around town. But we wondered, “How could we expand our media influence around our state?” In fact, a senate aide tole us they wanted to see us bring in media clips not only from our urban area, but from rural Missouri as well to show our influence in those areas.

I’ll share three tips we learned in case you’re looking to broaden your reach around your state and even into others. Getting published out of state is one of the few ways I can influence members of Congress out of my state. They may not have to represent me, but they definitely care what anyone says about them in the press!

If you’ve never written a letter to the editor before, pop over to my previous blog to check out basic tips for writing LTE’s. For a next step in generating more media, read on…

#1 Find a good headline from Associated Press News and submit several similar LTE’s at once

Editors love letters responding to articles in their own paper. Yet it can take time to look through many papers searching for a good headline “hook” related to your issue. The Associated Press can save you time!

Associated Press is a news service a lot of papers use, so they don’t have to use local resources to cover national news. If you find a headline that could be an excellent hook and the byline says Associated Press or “AP” on it, google that exact headline and it will probably turn up in several newspapers around the country. So, I can write one basic letter, then alter it a bit for each consecutive one until I respond to all of them, changing out the names of the members of Congress for the different publication areas. 

For instance, say you want to find an article about COVID-19 vaccines so you can write an LTE about global access. The AP put out an article called “Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans.” The same article was picked up in Denver, St Louis, Detroit, and Cedar Rapids among others. I can usually submit 6 or 7 letters using this method and maybe even get 2 or 3 of them published! Make sure each one is a slightly different, so they aren’t exact copies of each other.

Image: A headline with the Associated Press byline circled

Newspapers might change the headline a little, but they usually keep the first line of the article the same, so you could google the first line and possibly find even more.

#2 Try out-of-town newspapers in cities where you have a connection

For instance, my hometown newspaper in Fargo, North Dakota had a letter to the editor talking about the separation of church and state. I used that hook to say while the writer’s point was important, I also believe in being actively engaged in politics to live out the moral values I first learned as a child at Gethsemene Cathedral in Fargo. Mentioning my home church established my connection to their local community. I wrote about how people of many faiths support feeding malnourished people around the world and requested a global nutrition action from North Dakota senators.

Image: My Space Camper suited up
for a space walk simulation
For a paper in Oklahoma City, I might mention my mom lives there to reference a connection. I’ve also found newspapers amenable to printing your writing if you mention you travelled to the town for a beloved local attraction. When I took my daughter to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL and mentioned our trip in a piece while I stayed in town for a week, it was published immediately. 

#3 Respond to a colleague in the opinion section

This one works so well for me, it almost feels like cheating. If you know other activists who write LTE’s on the same issue, respond to their letters. I’ve lost track of the number of times my fellow RESULTS partner Willie Dickerson and I have landed published responses to each other’s letters, even though he lives in Washington State and I’m in Missouri. If I notice Willie has a letter in a newspaper far from where he actually lives, I automatically know they accept letters from out of town and that they would publish letters on our issues. So, I just write a letter to the editor saying I agree with him and mention a few more talking points about the same issue. This has the added benefit of going a little deeper into the issue than the original letter, so the members of Congress learn a little more.

Image: Willie Dickerson with my youngest daughter
Lastly, I’ll point out that some papers do not accept out-of-town letters at all. If you want a surefire list of papers around the country accepting of out-of-towners, I have a list of my published letters to the editor on my website. Any paper not in St. Louis is out-of-town for me, so they are fair game!

Let me know in the comment if any of these tips work for you or if you have some to add. Good luck!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Coping with Advocacy Stress

Advocacy is empowering, exciting, and inspiring! And yet, our world of divided politics also makes it frustrating and downright maddening. This is especially true for those who are not only advocates, but organizers shepherding the efforts of volunteers. “How do you cope!?” comes up again and again among activists in private conversations and public forums.

Legislative losses, internet trolls, misinformation, party politics, members of Congress who won’t listen, volunteer group members who don't respond to their group leaders…all of those are normal stressors for grassroots organizers. But throw in a dose of pandemic isolation and anxiety, and you have a solid recipe for activist burnout.

Despite how many well-meaning people like to call us “tireless activists,” that’s just not a true descriptor for most dedicated mom advocates. Tiredness is a frequent visitor. And Tiredness likes to bring along best buddy Overwhelm.

So, what are we to do?

Take Care of Ourselves

Photo: My walking path
For me, getting out to exercise in nature is a big part of restorative self-care. Getting away from humans for a while is important when particular humans are disappointing us in spectacular ways. Sandi Schwartz, the mom behind the Ecohappiness Project, always has suggestions on how parents and children can tap into the healing power of nature. She wrote a post about cow cuddling to reduce stress and now I want to go find a cow, but her usual tips are a bit more accessible to those of use who don't live on farms!

Photo: Cindy trying to decompress 
with a book at the nail salon 
After I check to see if I'm treating my body right with basic needs, pampering myself is another way I lift my spirits. I ventured back to the salon after 18 months of isolation, I found that actual human contact at a salon is rather anxiety-producing for me as the COVID-19 Delta variant races through Missouri. Luckily, Eva Milano has tips for an at-home scalp massage we can use to de-stress by ourselves.

Listen to the Experts

Those were a couple of my personal go-to suggestions, but a conversation at the virtual RESULTS International Conference revealed wisdom from some experienced activists who know a lot about advocacy burnout. Let’s learn from what they said when they reflected together on how to restore our powerful spirits.

"I look at the beauty around me and how grateful I am to be safe and I listen to audiobooks while knitting...preferably outside, weather permitting ."

Leslye Heilig

“I lean on my fellow advocates who are in a place of strength when I am not.” 

Cecilia van Wijk

“When advocacy is overwhelming for me I think of where I started with three little faces depending on me to ensure that they were provided with the best education and that they weren’t placed in a category and just left there. Now, I think of those faces and how much they have grown and how poverty has shaped each one of them. That helps me keep going. I don’t want them to ever have to experience poverty in their lifetime. I show them everyday that they have a voice and they can speak up. But when it’s overwhelming for them, I pick it up and run with it for them. My kids are my primary driver. Looking at how I grew up, I never wanted them to grow up the same way. So, I do what I can to ensure that they have better opportunities and that they don’t settle.”

Yolanda Gordon

“My kids help me stay motivated. I want to create a future where they never have to worry about being in poverty, and I think about all the moms out there struggling to care for their kids. As far as doing something to give myself a break, I like to have a dance party with my kids or belt out a song in my car or at karaoke (back when we could do that!)”

Lisa Peters

Photo: MLK Memorial in Washington DC

"When coping and self-care are key, I try to remember to rest, hydrate, and spend time with family, especially children. They bring hope and joy. Also, there is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that brings me up whenever I feel discouraged: 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' Change will come even when we feel like we don't see it yet."

Karyne Bury

“I cope by thinking back and taking a trip down memory lane! I remember the times my family and I needed help. Back then, there wasn’t much help for a single black man with five children. I think back on the seven years of having to stay in a tent. I think about those times not being able to take a decent bath. I think about that and how I wish somebody had been there to fight and advocate for my family. We deserved a voice like mine ready for whatever when it comes to letting congressional leadership know about families like mine. It's so important for poverty to come to an end! This isn’t a job. This is a lifestyle! Me and poverty have a personal type of relationship, and I don’t want nobody in this world to have to live like we did! So I don’t see myself ever getting tired because I know one day I’ll look back and smile and be proud that I didn’t get tired of fighting for what every family deserves: a home and a strong foundation to grow and learn and live a poverty free life!”

La’Shon Marshall

"When I’m overwhelmed, I take a step back. I remind myself that I need to take care of my mind and body in order to be my best self. We must respect and love ourselves enough to take breaks when we need them. The work will be there when we are ready to return."

Keisha Perkins

"In my own volunteer commitments, I find it helpful to communicate my boundaries with the person in charge so I don’t get overwhelmed. For example, if I led on a big project one month, they know I expect to take a back seat for the next month or two, and they plan accordingly. That way I can give it my all without getting chronically overwhelmed."


What are YOUR tips for avoiding advocacy burnout?

Leave 'em in the comments!

Photo: RESULTS advocates in a Zoom lobby meeting