Thursday, December 17, 2020

Interfaith Reflections on Chanukah and Advent

I write this post approaching the last night of Chanukah even as I contemplate the meaning of of Advent. Traditions of both holidays inspire us to light candles in winter, the darkest season of the year. This winter, facing the highest daily rates of death from COVID-19 yet, is very dark. Yet the glow of the candles brings me a centering sense of purpose.

A hanukiah lit for the 3rd night of Chanukah

The Chanukah theme of Resistance reminds me that our individual lights can beat back the darkness. We can and must lean on each other to resist the suffering, loneliness, and despair caused by the pandemic. In the words of Rabbi Brant Rosen, “True resistance can never occur as long as we expect an external human force to somehow show up to save us. In the end, the true miracle of resistance occurs when we show up for one another.”

An Advent wreath
Photo: Rev. Pamela Dolan

The Advent theme of Hope swells up in me whenever I see pictures of our elderly and
 frontline health workers receiving the first COVID-19 vaccines. Although it will be months before my family receives immunizations (and even longer for my family and friends in small countries overseas), I tearfully recognized that it has been ages since I felt a hope that seems real and urgent instead of abstract and far away.

Whether you’re bringing groceries to someone hungry, talking to someone lonely, caring for someone ill, caring for your family, or speaking out to make the world more fair than it was before the pandemic... keep resisting and don’t lose hope.

Be a light for someone. It’s dark out there, but we can be here for each other.

Chanukah Sameach!

Cindy holding a candle in the darkness

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

It's the Most Wonderful Time...for Letters to the Editor!

A mailbox for Letters to the Editor on a mantle
with Christmas stockings

I've heard it said that there are always fewer letter to the editor submissions to newspapers in December than other months. I think it must be true. It makes sense since everyone is busy at the end of the year. People prepare for the holidays, students take final exams, companies wrap up business before vacations, and everyone mentally checks out at the end of the year. It's a shame because a LOT happens at the end of an election year with a change of guard for many seats in Washington D.C. Yet YOU can make this work for you and your cause! With less competition, it makes it easier to get your letter to the editor published.

Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge

This month, my dear friend and media mentor Willie Dickerson reminded us RESULTS volunteers that editors would have a lighter load of letters while opportunities for writing about poverty issues were plentiful. He challenged our volunteer groups to a friendly "Twelve Days of Christmas Challenge" where we could strive to publish 12 letters, submit 12 letters, get 12 people to submit letters, or anything else that would encourage us to get more media published. I submitted 12 letters myself. 

On the first weekend of December, I sat down with a sample RESULTS letter to the editor template and looked for media "hooks" on newspaper websites. A hook is an article that you can connect to your issue. If you write your letter about a piece they've already printed, an editor is more likely to choose your letter because you are continuing the conversation the paper started. For instance, there are many articles out right now about the U.S. and U.K. starting to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. That's a great hook for me as an advocate working on global poverty. I can say something like, "It's great that wealthy countries are distributing a vaccine, but citizens of low-income countries will not receive it for a very long time. We should provide global assistance to protect the world's most vulnerable people as they suffer from even greater hunger and disease because of COVID-19."

That weekend, I submitted 12 letters to the editor to the following papers plus one extra one responding to a letter by my colleague Sarah Miller:

  1. Southern Illinoisan
  2. Carbondale Times
  3. Chicago Tribune
  4. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  5. Jewish Light
  6. Joplin Globe
  7. St. Louis American
  8. West Newsmagazine
  9. Kansas City Star
  10. Indianapolis Star
  11. Springfield News Leader
  12. New York Times
  13. Columbia Missourian
Banner logos for newspapers that published my letters
And what to my wondering eyes should appear? In the next week, EIGHT of my letters were published! (Dang, I would have liked to see eight tiny flying reindeer, but you can't have everything.) You can check them out by clicking the links in the list above. That is an unusually high acceptance rate for me. Usually, if I wrote ten letters, I would expect to get only 1 or 2 published. That's why I think it's true that fewer people submit at this time of year. 

Tips for Getting Published

For general tips on getting published, visit my Advocacy Made Easy post about letters to the editor. I do want to include a few extra hints about this batch of submissions...
  • Keep Going AFTER Letter #1 - What a shame if I'd never submitted 3, 6, 7, 10, and 13! Usually my first one is not my best one, so I keep writing knowing that my writing gets more concise as I spend more time with a topic. 
  • Use a Fresh Hook - When you look for an article or opinion piece to respond to, find one that has been published in the last week. You might be able to get away with ten days, but I wouldn't use one any older than that. News moves fast and you want the best chance at giving the freshest take!
  • Change Up Your Text Each Time - My letters are very similar to one another, but not exactly the same. Newspapers want to publish something unique for their readers. You don't have to start from scratch every time (in fact, your "Call to Action" is probably not going to change at all), but you do want to give some variation.  Using a unique hook every time will help with that. 
  • Support Your Colleagues - I mentioned that my 13th letter was in response to Sarah Miller's letter. A bit later, she got a letter published in response to my letter in the Joplin Globe. Just as I used her U.S. poverty COVID-19 hook to address a global issue, she used my global COVID-19 hook to write about the need for U.S. rental and nutrition assistance. It's really nice to work with a friend.
  • Write to a Variety of Papers - I wrote to papers of varying sizes in different states. I know that the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times are kind of long-shots. But if I DO land one of them, more people will see my words and they may carry more weight with influential decision makers like Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Schumer (D-NY). But I also write to smaller papers in my area, like The St. Louis American and the Southern Illinoisan, that are more likely to choose local voices to print. 
  • Use a "Yes, and..." Approach with Other Causes - There's a lot of competition for funding right now, especially in the realm of COVID-19 relief. I recommend staying positive and not getting in a media fight with other highly worthy causes. For instance, you can see that when I see Sarah asking for funding for Americans in poverty in her letter, I build upon her ask without suggesting that senators fund people in poverty around the world instead of impoverished Americans. We can do both. 

Now, You Give it a Try!

The month isn't over. No matter what your topic is, you will have less competition than the rest of the year. If you are an advocate fighting poverty in the U.S. or around the world, I've just given you eight great hooks. Give it a go!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Kids Holding Up a Mirror to Voters

My 15-year-old daughter organized her first election event this year. This was the first in-person, public action of her Sunrise Movement hub, made up of both middle school and high school students from a few different local schools. Knowing that most of her team would be nervous about a confrontational protest event, she wanted to do something uplifting to help the team - and their parents - feel comfortable with the action.

Get Out the Vote

The plan was to have excited students waving from public sidewalks of a busy local intersection holding signs encouraging people to vote on the Saturday BEFORE Election Day. The messages were intentionally nonpartisan. Examples of their signs said: “Vote,” “Your Vote Counts,” “Vote for Our Future,” “Your Vote Matters,” and “Our Voices Count.” They wanted to energize citizens to feel empowered, and urge voters to get out to the polls.

What Do You See?

As I observed the event, I noticed a curious phenomenon. Unlike a political campaign action where the public would react to a specific candidate or policies, the neutral “Vote” message from kids obviously too young to vote was like an ink-blot test for motorists. Most people would just honk or wave in support of the students. That was what I expected.

However, a fair amount of people who rolled down their windows to shout a passing message or to converse during a red light seemed to assume that the kids were out there to support THEIR presidential candidate. “Thanks for being out here for Biden” or “Yeah! Alright! Trump 2020!” were common responses. Both Trump AND Biden supporters (identified by their bumper stickers) said, “Yes! We need to count all the votes to make sure he wins." Most people clearly seemed to identify positively with the message, but lots of people were clearly interpreting the message in very different - and sometimes highly partisan - ways.

Then, there was the subset of people who gave thumbs down along with angry faces. The sign-holders on my side of the street counted 15 of those during the two hour event, and it sounds like there were about the same amount on the other side. A dad keeping an eye on his sign-holding daughters wondered aloud, “What does that even say about you as a person if you’re against kids encouraging you to vote?" Admittedly, there are definitely indigenous people in the U.S. who feel disenfranchised on their own they shouldn’t have to vote for a country that doesn’t recognize their rights or sovereignty. But, I’m pretty sure that wasn't the motivation for that negative behavior in the upper-middle class, largely white suburb of St. Louis we were standing in.

It seems to me like our kids were essentially holding up a giant mirror to the passers-by. Every driver saw what they brought with them to the moment and reacted accordingly.

Three days past election day, we've seen plenty of that ugly reflection of Americans who are not interested in fair elections as they demanded the counting of votes to stop in states where the rules clearly allow our military, absentee voters, and others to legally have their votes included.

As a volunteer advocate who works with Congress year round, I believe strongly that every voice should matter. I worked for the past months endlessly explaining to Missouri voters how to navigate our complex absetee and mail-in ballot rules (those two types of ballots are different in our state). Yet I still belatedly heard from a voter who had a ballot rejected because he was confused about our notary signature requirement to vote while at college out of state.

What Comes Next?

Post-election, those who fight for the rights of people every day will have plenty of work to do. Our values do not change. No matter who lives in the White House, our voting laws still make it harder for some to vote than others. Votes are still suppressed. Racism still plays a role in housing, criminal justice, health care, and a host of other policies that we can continue to improve bit by bit every day.

This poignant image shared by artist Angie King publicly on her facebook page on Election Eay beautifully describes how I've been feeling about Election 2020. The results of any election only tell me who I will be working with...not what I will be working on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Moms Can Model Patience in 2020

Are you feeling as anxious as this leftover
Halloween pumpkin on my porch?

It’s the day after Election Day 2020 and you could say I’m a tad on edge. If you’re an American who follows news, I bet you are, too, as we wait for votes to be counted state by state. We knew we wouldn’t have a clear presidential winner. We KNEW a record number of mail-in votes would take days to count. 

And yet we still are experiencing a nationwide anxiety attack. We need to make sure that doesn’t devolve into a nationwide panic attack.

Let’s talk, moms, because our presidential election results might take days if we’re just waiting for counting or weeks if it goes into court battles.

Moms Can Model Patience

We’re gonna need some national patience and mothers can be an excellent source of it. Patience is a virtue mothers that mothers are supposed to teach to our children. Today, we should model that behavior for them, for those around us, and for ourselves. Uncertainty is scary, for sure. We are entitled to have worry and a host of negative feelings. Don’t bury your concern to hide it from your children, though. They should see genuine feelings from a parent. Instead, show them healthy ways to deal with uncertainty.

But how to we muster up the correct mindset to model patience if we’re not feeling it so much ourselves? It's difficult to be tell others to calmly wait for all the votes to be counted when you feel like burning all your relationships by yelling at people in all caps on social media all day! Well, I try to take the same advice I so freely give to my teens when they feel anxious about anything from exams to friendships.

Focus on the Positive

Focusing on positive outcomes from last night helps me keep an even keel. Look beyond the presidential headlines. See where you can find hope and inspiration in your local elections or other states. These are a few not-so-publicized items that lifted my spirits this morning:

Congressoman-elect Cori Bush

Cori Bush will represent Missouri’s 1st District 

Missouri will send its first Black female U.S. Representative to Washington D.C. She’s a mom, a nurse, a supporter of the Green New Deal, an activist for #BlackLivesMatter. She has also experienced homelessness with her husband and two young children. As an advocate on issues of poverty and health (and the mom of two climate activists), I look forward to working with a representative with these fresh perspectives for our state.

New Mexico Delegation of Color 

New Mexico will be the first state to elect all women of color to the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a Native American woman and a Democrat, kept her seat. Republican Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, won the 2nd Congressional District. Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won the 3rd Congressional seat.

A nice flower now represents the
great state of Mississippi

Mississippi's State Flag

Mississippians adopted a new state flag after flying a Confederate emblem for 126 years. People might continue debating park statues and history, but a new era of voters decided that a symbol of oppression has no place flying outside a Capitol building representing all citizens. Symbols have power. I believe this is a step on the way to the laws INSIDE the Capitol representing citizens of color.

Senator-elect Mark Kelly

This one is getting a lot of coverage, but as a lifelong NASA fan and current Space Camp mom, I’m extremely excited about it. Astronauts have a unique global and pro-science perspective that few of us will ever know. I especially think this is true of Mark Kelly whose twin brother spent a whole year on the International Space Station. In addition, I’m relieved he’ll be a voice of reason in the Senate on gun policies since his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is a gun violence survivor.

Hack into Your Hormones

Get yourself into healthy de-stressing actions. My high school friend (who is also a therapist) shared this useful chart. Careful with that suggestion of eating dark chocolate to release dopamine and endorphin. I think a lot of us ate our feelings last night, so maybe give some others a try for the sake of variety!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

You Can Do More Than Just Vote

This week, a Twitter friend of mine summed up what a lot of Americans are thinking today. "I need a drink. I wish I could do something for my country besides vote." 

After all the hoopla and lead-up to voting, it can be anti-climactic to cast it and then just stew in our own anxiety. Is that all we can do?


Even if you only have a spare hour, even if you can't leave your home, even though we only have a few days left in the election, you can STILL get to work multiplying your influence! Some people call it vote-tripling to call three other people to get them to vote for your candidates, but your influence can be even bigger than three! Call up friends or strangers and help them cast their ballot, vote for your candidate, or - if they've already done those things - volunteer for your candidate!

Help someone vote

Call whoever you can think of to see if they need help with the logistics of voting or decisions about candidates and local referendums. 

Voting can be tricky in 2020. Many polling places have been moved, so they can handle the distancing needed for COVID-19 safety. Some voters will go to the wrong location out of habit. I emailed all my neighbors to make sure they all knew about our change. I also asked our old polling place to update their sign with the new polling location and the website where people could find more voting details.

I'm also reaching out to encourage people to vote early to avoid trouble on Election Day that we can't predict. Just in the last week I've had one friend hospitalized for pneumonia, one hit by a car, and another friend whose family contracted COVID-19. This week, in Mississippi and Louisiana, hurricane Zeta flooded and knocked out power to 2.1 million people. We never know what crises are around the corner.

I was relieved to hear my senior neighbors finally decided to vote early, which Missouri allows without an excuse for those over 64. But they needed a little help figuring out the details of absentee voting. I'm glad I could help with that! Unfortunately, they tried to vote this morning and turned back when over 100 people were in line. They turned away again in the afternoon when the line was even longer. Hopefully, they will be able to vote tomorrow morning. The lines will be even longer on Election Day with frustrated tempers flaring high, so do all you can to help people vote early if they can. 

Phonebank for your local candidates

If you have powerful reasons you want them to win, share 'em! It's no secret I prefer not to phone bank, but my preferences don't mean diddly squat when I think of children separated from parents at the U.S. border or the abysmally lax gun laws in my state. Phone banking is safe and effective. It's also the ONLY way you can reach voters in a different state at this late date! And a week before the election, you might get some great surprise zoom guests - like your candidate and sitting members of Congress - firing you up!

There's me in the upper left listening to candidate Jill
Schupp and guest speaker Rep. Adam Schiff answer my
question about the importance of global health aid.

Even though you'll get a lot of hangups and people who don't want to talk, I usually find a couple of people who make it all worthwhile. 

Last night, I talked to a mom who had decided on her governor and presidential choices, but didn't know much about our down ballot state candidates. She has two pre-teen daughters a little younger than mine, she cares about gun violence and reproductive rights. She was thrilled to know she had FOUR women to vote who shared her values! Honestly, she just sounded like a less-engaged version of myself. I helped her streamline her research and decisions.

For local candidates, go to your preferred candidate's website and they will probably have a sign up there. Local orgs like Moms Demand Action chapters have lists of campaign activities for local candidates. You might meet some cool people who care about your issues who will be your allies after the election.

I met other Moms Demand Action volunteers on this Halloween-themed costume phone bank.

Influence other states by text or phone is asking for even just 20 minutes or more of your time to help text out the vote. They are working to reach 15 million low frequency mom voters to get them the information they need to vote, so every volunteer moment is a BIG help. Many busy moms don't have the info they need to find out when and where to vote, so you can be a great assistance to them using the resources of MomsRising.

People can even do this in line WHILE they are waiting to vote! 

Wisconsin Dems - the org behind the livestream Princess Bride and Rocky Horror Picture Show fundraiser events - are really pouring it on for Biden/Harris and would welcome your help. You can sign up here. They will train you to talk to Wisconsin voters in their very important swing state.

If you want in on that Rocky Horror action live with Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, you can make a donation and join them Halloween night!

Have you heard that Texas may be turning purple? On the chance that they could turn that big state blue with its 38 electoral votes, out of staters are taking that chance to win with Dance and Dial phone bank events. Each begins with a training and ends with a dance party! 

Take a walk and do a "literature drop"

Dropping literature means walking door to door to houses putting campaign door hangers or other brochures on doors. You'll get a map and a stack of literature from the campaign office. You walk around a neighborhood wearing a mask and put the info on doors. That's it! 

I like this because it's safe from COVID-19 and I don't have to talk to anyone. The closest I ever got to anyone while doing literature drops was calling out to people doing yard work from a distance to ask, "May I hang this on your door?" They always just gave me a thumbs up or waved me towards their door. 

If you live in the St. Louis area and have even a free hour to do this (the weather looks to be beautiful), there is a literature drop for Missouri democrats on Saturday Oct 31-Monday Nov 2. You can sign up here.

Worried about doing this on your own. Bring a friend! This week I invited my friend along who had never done this work before, but is feeling very anxious about the election. Having a nice fall walk with a friend is healthier than sitting at home and worrying. She liked it so much that she's coming out with me again tomorrow!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Advocacy and Direct Service: Both are Needed

How can I help the most people? Where am I most needed? What's the best way to use my unique gifts to help others? 

These are questions I continue to ask myself over and over. The answers led me to learn to advocate to my members of Congress, but they also still compel me to keep my hand more directly in service efforts connecting me with people struggling with the policies I discuss on Capitol Hill. There's a difference between these two important, but very different kinds of work. Sometimes, I find it hard to explain when I'm recruiting new advocates. The question will always come up:

What is the difference between advocacy and direct service?

The River Metaphor

Imagine you are having a picnic near the banks of a raging river. You hear a cry for help and see several people—men, women, and children—fighting for their lives in the middle of the current. Mothers try to hold their babies above the water, but they are drowning. Children are being sucked under with exhausted parents. 

You and your fellow picnickers jump into action, tossing ropes and floats into the raging waters to reach as many people as you can, one by one. The survivors are grateful, but they point upriver to show you even more victims swept helplessly along. Maybe you and your shore-side buddies devise a brilliant system of ropes and pulleys to rescue multiple people, but there are far too many to save.


While your party is fishing people out of the raging waters, you turn your eyes upriver and wonder: “Why is this happening? Did a bridge collapse? Is there someone pushing people in the river? Is there some terrible danger up there that makes a perilous plunge the better choice?” 


You hike upstream to find a way to prevent people from falling into the river in the first place. Because you are a change-focused advocate, you decide to find the root cause of the suffering and strategically use your influence to eliminate that cause so that no one has to drown. Once you discover the reason for the suffering and figure out a strategy to save the most people, you will speak up and convince your community to follow your plan.

Direct Service Versus Advocacy

The river scenario illustrates the difference between “direct service” and “advocacy.” Direct service workers give of their energy and talents to help people in their moment of need. Disaster relief volunteers, soup kitchen servers, and polio vaccinators are examples of direct service providers. On-the-ground relief work can be incredibly satisfying as it connects volunteers directly to individuals who need help. Most people think about direct service when they think about volunteering and charity work. 


Change advocates take a wider approach and use their voices to rally even more help for the long term. At its best, advocacy is about seeking out root causes, finding effective solutions, and persuading other people to help implement those solutions. The work can feel far removed from the people you are trying to help, which some find less rewarding than direct service roles. 


Working to change a system requires an ability to delay the natural human desire for instant gratification and personal words of thanks. But when you are successful, when you know that no more people will fall into the metaphorical river or—in the real world—that we are 99% of the way to eradicating polio, then it feels very, very gratifying to know that you saved many more people than you ever could have if you never took the mental leap to leave the river bank.


Serving Millions, not Hundreds

My decision to move upstream in the fight against hunger in America came after my children were born. As a busy mom, I have learned to continually ask myself: “Since I’m just one person, how can I make the most difference with the limited time and energy I have to volunteer?”


When I was childless and single with lots of free time, I started serving dinner regularly in a church soup kitchen. Standing behind folding tables, scooping casserole and welcoming the hundreds of people who streamed into the great hall became a highlight of my month. It warmed my heart to hear their words of thanks and to see children happily munching dessert I put on their plates. I drove home knowing people had full bellies because of those hours I had volunteered with fellow congregants.


A bunch of RESULTS advocates teaming up for a night of
hands-on work as food packers much like I used to
do for the Greater Chicago Food Depository  
Over time, I started to worry about what soup kitchen clients did on days when they couldn’t get hot meals from the church. So, I moved a little farther upstream and began volunteering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to supply food pantries all around the area. Although I felt like my work was making a difference, my personal efforts seemed dwarfed by the immense need in the echoing warehouse. Unfortunately, even those efforts ended after my first baby was born. I had to step away from those hands-on projects as neither were compatible with the hands-on work required for baby care. 


Eventually, I learned from Bread for the World that I didn’t have to give up the battle against hunger even if I could no longer spend hours in a soup kitchen or food pantry. In fact, I learned that the work I had been doing was addressing only a symptom—hunger—without addressing its root cause—poverty. Lack of a living wage, mass incarceration, lack of affordable housing, and even food subsidies in the U.S. Farm Bill all play a part in perpetuating a cycle of poverty resulting in hunger.


If I truly wanted to help more people, I could use my voice to change the systems and policies that perpetuate hunger. Plus, I could pursue that work even while caring for my small children. Of course, moving my efforts further up the river meant I would never meet most of the people my work would benefit, and would rarely hear personal expressions of gratitude. But I soon discovered that I'm okay with that because far fewer people can get along without the thank you's and have the patience for congressional work. I feel like it's the best place for my personal gifts.


Both Roles Are Vital

Even if you prefer to work as a direct service provider, you’ll probably find it helpful to take a simple advocacy action now and then, such as writing to Congress or signing an online petition. You could also team up with an advocate who is working on a similar issue. Advocates can set up meetings with elected officials, write newspaper pieces, or arrange for public awareness events that create opportunities for direct service volunteers to tell their stories to the right people at the right time.


Similarly, being an advocate does not mean you can never be involved in direct service. I find that hands-on volunteer work frequently provides inspiration and personal stories to fuel advocacy. You don’t have to choose between one and the other!


Food donations AND better government policies are needed to feed our communities, so we need direct service providers AND advocates to solve the complicated problem of hunger—and many others like it.

I'd love to hear your answer to the question...

How do you like to help?



Thursday, August 27, 2020

When Advocacy & Voting Aren't Enough: Election Campaign Volunteering

I spend most of my time telling people that building relationships with members of Congress is an empowering way to change the world between elections. There are a few weeks of the year when I "get out the vote." But there comes a time when advocacy isn’t enough and an individual vote isn’t enough either to get the change we need. This is that time! If you truly care about the outcome of an election (and everybody should this year more than most), you should be turning your vote into 20, 50, or 100 votes.

In 2020, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that our candidates are going to win because "somebody else" is going to do the work. It's time to get personal. It's up to all of us.

When I speak to people about campaign volunteering - even those who are very vocal about out against the President of the US or the general state of the world - I get this pushback:

  • I just feel so overwhelmed with all this political negativity and COVID

  • I’m super busy and don’t have time

  • I’m not good at talking to strangers and wouldn’t know what to say

If you feel overwhelmed, I get it. I hear you. Yet consider that we may feel even more overwhelmed in December if gun sense candidates lose, reproductive rights are reduced, and we have four more years of a president inspiring racist acts of murder as happened in Kenosha recently. Helping get new people in office and ousting people not living up to their jobs can ease anxious feelings. It may not seem like it, but campaign volunteering can sometimes be self care.

If you are busy, I get that, too. But most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have an hour here or there.

As far as talking to strangers, I’ve got splendid news for you! Read on about ways to volunteer that either give you help in talking about candidates or don’t require you to talk to anyone AT ALL!

Making sure like-minded friends/family have a voting plan 

Usually, we’d be doing this kind of work 2-3 weeks before an election, but in the context of COVID-19 people need to request mail-in or absentee ballots early. In Missouri, that means explaining to people the difference between mail-in and absentee ballots and ensuring people make solid plans to do one of those options very early or vote in person. 

Here’s an infographic about Missouri, but make sure you find up-to-date info about your own state. Voting rules differ from state to state!

No-Contact Canvassing 

Canvassing doesn't mean knocking on doors to talk to voters anymore. COVID-19 has brought on the "No Contact Literature Drop." You get a map and a stack of door hangers with campaign info on it. You walk around a neighborhood wearing a mask and hang the info on doorknobs. That's it!

The closest I ever got to anyone while doing literature drops for Helena Webb (running for Missouri State Rep for District 100) was calling out to people doing yardwork from a distance to ask them, "May I hang this on your door?" They always just gave me a thumbs up or waved me toward their door.

Phone Banking 

Phone banking used to happen at campaign offices with stale coffee & donuts. But like everything else in 2020, it’s now done from home. Because of COVID-19, this is now the ONLY way many campaigns can have interactive conversations with voters.

Most campaigns invite you to a zoom call to receive training on how to use an on-line tool. The tool provides a script to read from a screen with info about the candidate. Sometimes, it even gives you the voters' polling places to help voters make a voting plan. Some especially cool campaigns (like Sunrise Movement) use an online dialer. A dialer automatically calls voters for you while concealing your own phone number. Those are helpful because it reduces the number of times you get an answering machine.

Cori Bush speaks to phonebook volunteers via ZoomYou’re always encouraged to customize the script with your own reasons you support a candidate, but you can just stick to the script if you prefer! Heck, you can even use a fake first name if you’re that worried about exposing yourself.

Is this effective? You bet. Your experience will contain a lot of hang-ups and people who won’t want to talk to you. But when you get someone who is undecided, those conversations are golden! When I was calling for Cori Bush’s primary, I got a voter who went from a very skeptical “I heard she started a fake church” to an enthusiastic “I’m going to get my whole family to vote for her. There are five of us here and we’re all going together. We’re all voting for Cori Bush!” It shocked me that a phone call from me, a stranger, had that much impact on that woman. I don’t even live in her district, but my voting power soared from zero votes to five in that one conversation. That night, when Cori won by a VERY narrow margin, I was glad I made the effort.

For more detailed info on phone banking with the Sunrise Movement, here is my daughter’s blog about it at “Thrill Seeking for Nerds (who want to change the world)”

Text banking

Text banking is similar to phone banking except it uses only texting. The concept is the same in that you’ll probably be asked to download an app to help you text voters. You won’t see their contact info and they won’t see yours. I don’t have a lot of experience with this except as a text banking recipient. I’ll admit that my failing eyesight doesn’t make me a fan of texting, but my 14-year-old likes this method. Maybe you will, too!


Postcards are one of my favorite ways to help because I don’t interact with anyone and I can do it while I’m watching Dr. Who or Umbrella Academy and still feel like I’m helping our democracy! You get a stack of postcards along with a list of voter addresses and a short sample message to write. Fill them out, put your own postcard stamps on them, and drop them in the mailbox. Easy! I like to use colored sharpies to make them pretty. My kids sometimes draw little pictures on them. Anything that makes them more eye-catching and personal is great!

Recruiting Friends to Volunteer

Did you read through those options and still can’t bring yourself to do any of them? Try making a handful of calls to ask friends if they would do volunteer for a campaign. You probably know someone of your own political mindset who has some time. Recruitment of even two active volunteers still multiplies your own influence!

What are your favorite ways to volunteer for campaigns?


Monday, June 29, 2020

Advocacy Made Easy: Protests

2017 March for Science in Washington D.C.
When a big moment comes around, protests can be a powerful way for a local community to weigh in together or for individuals to congregate in a high-profile destination like Washington D.C. I’ll be the first to admit that protests are not the form of advocacy I have the most experience doing. Most people know that my focus is on relationship-building lobby meetings on the opposite side of the spectrum from shouting in the streets. There are times, however, when many voices need to be heard all at once.

As parents, we need to decide when it is appropriate to involve our children in protest activities. We must recognize that these experiences are not set up to be learning exercises for our children. Large crowds, uncomfortable temperatures, and heightened emotions provide challenging situations for both adults and children. Yet depending upon the issue, it can be just too important for us to stay away. Jennifer Burden of New Jersey shared this sentiment with about her decision to attend a Black Lives Matter protest with her husband and two daughters:
“The movement to end racism is a social justice issue that my family finds important and wants to be a part of. The Black Lives Matter rally, here, in our town of Holmdel, was a great conduit to further our conversations with our kids on the topic of race, and it provided an opportunity, as parents, to model the positive behavior for them on standing up for those who need it most.”
I want to make a clear statement that protesting is not the same as rioting. The right to protest is a protected right and a patriotic tradition in the United States. While it's true that some protest activities can lead to violence and property damage, rioting is not what I’m talking about.

A pre-coronavirus picture on the way to the
Women's March in January of 2020.
That being said, we must consider safety concerns because feelings can run hot at protests. Some issues have more potential for violence. Protests against gun violence sometimes draw out armed counter-protesters. Marches against police violence have higher tensions between police and protestors. Unlike other advocacy actions, protesting has a possibility for tear gas, gun violence, or other physical harm. Your choice of which protest to attend is paramount when considering the safety of children. Types of protest events can range from rallies and vigils that stay in one place or marches on the move. Is it better for your family to be in a march where you can duck easily out of the route or at a rally where small kids can sit on a blanket far from the center of action? You decide what is best for your particular family! I recommend choosing an environment that allows you to be the most present to your children and provide the best likely chances for peaceful gatherings.

Before a protest:
·      Look for a protest during daylight hours for better visibility, greater probability of peaceful action, and less grumpy children;
·      Choose a protest location allowing you to leave early without trouble if your child is tired or needs to use a bathroom;
·      Talk to children about the event days ahead of time to help them understand the issue and have time to ask questions;
·      Help kids make their own signs. (Thinking about what they want on their signs and how they want to express it can be part of their learning experience);
·      Discuss the tone of the march. (The March for Science had a serious message about climate change and other science-based issues, but a light-hearted attitude. Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have an urgent air of life-and-death, and older kids should behave knowing they're standing in solidarity with survivors of traumatic experiences.);

Here are some tips for taking kids to protest events compiled from my experiences and suggestions from my friends who are more experienced parent-protesters.

For everyone:
·      Pack water and snacks;
·      Prepare for the weather. (Hats and sunscreen in the summer, ponchos for rain, or warm gloves and other outerwear for early spring and winter);
·      Wear good, comfortable shoes;
·      Stay close to each other;
·      Bring a bandana for each person (Useful for wiping a sweaty face with cool water or protecting from tear gas);

For young children:
·      Dress kids in clothes with pockets and make sure important info is in the pockets. (Very important info like allergies and phone numbers could even be written on arms or on a key chain safety-pinned to kid’s clothes);
·      Bring a light-weight sign for every 2-3 marchers to take turns when little ones tire of carrying it;
·      Attend with another family with your kids’ friends for fewer complaints of boredom;
·      Snacks, snacks, snacks;

For older kids:
·      Agree to rules before you arrive. (For instance, “don’t go into the thick of the crowd.” Or, “be respectful and positive.”);
·      Charge all cell phones & conserve battery for communication with each other;
·      Carry ID;
·      Wear glasses instead of contacts in case of tear gas;
·      Have a designated meeting space a few blocks from the protest in case you get separated;
·      Choose a spot where you can hear the speeches, if possible, so your kids can learn;
·      Discuss how to behave if yelled at, harassed, threatened, or arrested OR if you see it happen to someone else;
·      For sensitive human rights issues like Black Lives Matter, discuss what it means to be a good ally. (For instance, counsel white kids to follow Black leadership and not start chants on their own. Also, taking and posting smiling selfies at next to people in pain is in poor taste no matter how many people are doing it around you.);
·      For sensitive issues, do not post pictures of local organizers & other protesters on social media which might lead them to be targeted by extremists. (This happens here in St. Louis, sometimes with fatal consequences);

If the last three points are alarming, that is exactly why we have to give serious consideration to safety. Not all marches are simply a walk in the park. I'll say it again: We must recognize that these experiences are not set up to be learning exercises for our children.

My teens and I practiced safe mask-wearing and social
distancing at a Black Lives Matter protest during
the COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 Safety
·      Wear face masks at all times. Consider not taking children under two years of age because the CDC does not recommend masks for toddlers under that age;
·      Maintain a distance of at least six feet from everyone not in your family even if it means you can’t hear the speeches as well;
·      Bring hand sanitizer and use it liberally;
·      If people aren't using masks...leave;
·      Isolate for two weeks after to ensure you don't spread the virus if you do contract it;

Note: When COVID-19 safety protocol is followed, protests are being shown to be low-risk activities. Note that low-risk isn't NO risk. Stay home if you or your children are at high-risk for the virus.

What other suggestions can you share in the comment section?

Friday, June 5, 2020

No Excuses, No Shame. Start Being an Ally Today.

I haven't posted about the massive Black Lives Matter movement sweeping across my country before now. That was on purpose. See, while I don't exactly identify as white (I'm mixed race white/Asian), I  know I am white in the context of this movement. So, I've been doing what Black leaders have asked of us. I've been watching, reading, learning, and - when I can - acting in a support role to help black-led activities. What I haven't done is written about how to take action against racism in America. This changes today.

I admit I've had a tendency to think I should let others who regularly work in the anti-racism area do the talking. I don't feel as educated or eloquent on race issues as I am about nutrition or housing.
I was thinking, "It's not my area"..but it is.
Centuries of unaddressed structural and systemic racism are the same forces of oppression that drive poverty in America and other countries. Racism and poverty are inextricably linked. So, I should do the same thing I always do: help get people into action by removing mental barriers that keep people from acting. Please know that I'm writing to fellow white people in this post from here on in.

Set aside shame

Here, I'm talking directly to white people with eyes newly opened to the realities of how Black Americans have suffered at the hands of our own law enforcement. Maybe you think things like, "I just didn't know" or "I had no idea it was that bad." Then, maybe you get embarrassed to realize that Black communities have been telling us for years and we just didn't listen. That embarrassment and shame can keep us from having the confidence to enter the movement. So, I'm telling you now...

Get over it.

Wallowing in the past doesn't make anything better. This is a case of "Do the best you can and when you know better, do better." You're here now. Let's get to work. If you move forward with a humble heart of service and an attitude of wanting to learn, you will help to make change.

The opposite of racist isn't "not racist." It's "anti-racist." It's not enough to sit back and say, "Well, I didn't do anything racist to anyone." Being silent and maintaining the status quo is keeping systemic racism in place. We have to get over ourselves and actually take actions to oppose racist policies whether it be educating others, protesting, promoting fairer policies about community policing and housing, or electing people who will enact those policies.

Do your homework

We can jumpstart ourselves into the "knowing better" part by doing a bit of homework before unintentionally doing or saying things that will hurt others. Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism," states that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. Find out what she means by that before you go out and do damage yourself.

Anti-racism work is hard. It's charged with feelings. Chances are that when you engage in it for the first, second, or third time, you'll probably stick your foot in your mouth and hurt others' feelings without meaning to. It's likely your own feelings will get hurt, too. But you can lessen those missteps by doing some upfront homework yourself.

And do your homework WITHOUT asking your Black friends for help. Laura Cathcart Robins, a Black podcaster and free-lance writer says, "Don't call or text me and ask me what to read or how to support me. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm exhausted and depleted; I'm put-a-fork-in-me-done with all that - please figure it out among yourselves."

There have never been more resources available about anti-oppression and racism. Books on the subject are in such demand that they're back-ordered at most bookstores. But I've heard many places are making them available for FREE on kindle and audiobooks. "White Fragility," "Me and White Supremacy," and "How to Be an Anti-Racist" are a few good titles to start with.

There are also no shortage of online articles to read online. Here are a few I recommend:

Black Lives Matter has also put this very long list together. It's pretty comprehensive and I have not read most of them!

But don't take too long doing the reading! "Antiracism is about doing and not just knowing," says Leslie Mac, an activist and a community organizer. Do your reading and keep doing it. Learning is a lifetime activity.

Do something...right now!

If you've been frozen thinking, "I don't know how to help," let's get over that hurdle. It might seem like the only way to help is by attending a protest, but that isn't true. Black Lives Matter has put out a list of literally hundreds of ways to help:

Of course, if you want to attend a protest, you certainly should! (remember to wear a face-mask and stand away from people to not spread the COVID-19 virus) Yet in the interest of overcoming barriers for people who can't or won't protest for whatever reason (and COVID-19 is definitely a reason), here is an incomplete list of other things you can do. There are so many ways to plug into the movement, that there are no more excuses to sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

  • Donate to a bail fund to release peaceful, organized protestors from jail
  • Donate to a victim's family
  • Work to elect local and federal candidates who stand for anti-racist policies by donating, phone-banking, or dropping off literature at doors.
  • Host a zoom book discussion about racism to educate your white friends
  • Call and write to your U.S. Senators. We can ask our U.S. Senators to sign onto the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 introduced by Senators Harris and Booker. The bill would ban the use of choke holds, establish a federal registry of misconduct complaints, make it easier for victims of police violence to recover damages by restricting the "qualified immunity" defense, collect data on use of force, and give the Justice Department more authority to investigate abuses by police departments. 
  •  Call and write to your U.S. Representatives. We can ask them to sign onto H.R. 7120: Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and the  H.R. 5777: Police Accountability Act of 2020
  • Sign online petitions
  • Back up your friends with supportive comments when you see them having tough conversations with friends/family about racism on Facebook
  • Join an advocacy group like RESULTS that has a clear anti-oppression mission. Learn to advocate for policies that will disrupt systemic racism (they just so happen to have an online conference this month!)
  • Write a blog post
  • Collect supplies to help keep protesters safe from COVID-19 and tear gas (You must coordinate with protest organizers to get them where they are needed. Joining a Black Lives Matter support Facebook group for your city is a good way to find them)
One last word about taking action..don't be a performance activist. If you go to a protest, document the action, but don't be posting selfies. Be present and helpful. You should share actions when they make sense and you are inviting others to join you, but you don't have to post screen shots of your donations. Just do the work humbly and follow the directives of Black leaders with grace and humility. This is what is required of us right now. 

Good luck on your journey. I'm gonna need it with mine!