An idea exploring Government vs. Civil Society

I am exploring this idea:

If government represents who we are and what we value now, then civil society and institutions are responsible for exploring and articulating visions for what we could be, who we might become as a community.

I would love to hear other people’s reactions to this, especially as I explore it further through specific case studies.

Where do we go from here? Civil society after the 2016 Election

I took a few days to think about and gather myself, asking, what comes next? What happens now? A few things, naturally. But one of the things I took away from a conversation this morning that is helping me re-center as a researcher and activist are these two questions:

  1. What are my values when I think about the society I want to build and live in?

  2. As I am now and what I can become, what role can I play in creating that society?

Maybe what frightens me most is how clearly this election went way off the rails in terms of any sort of clear discussion about values. Do we want to build an equal society? Do we want to distribute resources such that everyone can compete on an equal playing field? Do we want to grow at any cost (because maybe there are still people who believe trickle down economics work… it’s doesn’t). I want to start here, as I reaffirmed some of my values this morning at Trinity Wall Street.

Today's prayers at Trinity Wall Street
Today’s prayers at Trinity Wall Street

I think every concrete solution requires some compromises, but what are the truths we want to fight for and focus on as we rebuild our communities. I am not sure I could tell you where Trump or anyone on his team derive their values. I pray that this regime is not as dangerous as the troop of mercenaries (meaning, without a guiding northern light of a philosophy or set of values) that they seem to be. I hope we can push this government or at least the civilian communities in political life to be more explicit in restating and clarifying our values.

I has an important conversation this afternoon where we asked the question: Do we design a government for who we are now or who we could be? What if government was designed with space to grow into what we strive to become? What if there was an ideal (or, more realistically, a set of ideals) and we created space for that growth, reflection, and critique of ourselves? What would that society look like, and what would the practice be like on the individual and community levels.

I love the stories where appealing to people privately and engaging with them can help bring teaching moments and shared values to the surface. Deep Canvassing, an effort by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAVE in Florida where volunteers knock on doors and have 10 minute conversations about LGBT and trans rights with voters who rejected measures to protect these communities WORKED. It changed minds in ways that perhaps blanket bans on certain behaviors and speech could not. But it was here, in civil society, that community was build and maintained a new social order. They appealed to what people could be, instead of where they were at that time, frozen as an identity.

An activist I admire argues that the best way to participate politically is to show up with your skill set and offer to help. What can you do to push the conversation and effort further, because not everyone should show up and community organize. Movements need fundraisers to support the community, they need a web presence and a good designer to help reach new audiences. They need writers to record their message and history. There are many ways to participate.

Now more than ever, I am reminded that civil society is part of the political conversation as much as government is, and there are so many ways to participate. We created salons 4 years ago to push our conversations about feminism and equal rights beyond our classrooms and create a place for people to ask hard questions and learn about morality, how to negotiate, friendships, and other things that we sometimes suffer through on our own. Creating community is political, we are organizing, and it is necessary. We are stronger and better equipped for debate and building new ideas when we are working together. Perhaps it is most toxic to the system when we decide not to participate or continue learning at all. And these conversations in our community can take many forms… maybe even just visions of what the future could look like for our communities, or meeting new people in your neighborhood and city, attending local events by artists or religious institutions or universities, etc.

Beyond that, I think I can contribute as a researcher, offering ideas and studies where communities have trouble competing with well-funded think tanks. Too many histories fall off the charts because they aren’t recorded in the detail they deserve, their impact goes unmeasured, unnoticed. I want to be part of fixing this problem too. But I think I need to spend a little more time thinking through the vision for my next few years as an activist and (everything else that I am).

That’s where I am for today.

(Burrowing Owls Header, Image credit to Shell Game on Flickr, Cape Coral, FL; 17 Feb 2012)

War on Facts? Research after Election 2016

I’m exploring what it means to be a researcher (and fact checker) during and after this election cycle. Especially if this is a “post-fact world.”

I want to argue now that we’re not so much “post-fact” as we are missing and ignoring a lot of information. I’m inspired by Rebecca’s Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, which reminds us that progress is a long conversation, not a quick series of victories. And hope for me is a collection of smaller moments… so I want to share what makes me hopeful and how I think we can heal post election.

Facts are useful tools, they are not the end game. Proving “truth” alone does not mean healthy communities, because we need to meet people as people and we haven’t done that especially well these last few years. Especially when we move away from a system that creates bridges and listens and into one that ignores our communities when they ask for help. A crucial part of our healing process after this election is to listen and understand where our communities are afraid and where they are hopeful. THEN we can use facts to build solutions that meet these needs.

I am recalibrating my goals as a professional researcher and fact checker in media to serve this wider purpose. How do we listen, identify the existing problems and concerns, and then use facts to build solutions rather than silence immediately. As background, I was very anxious while following the election coverage for most of this spring and summer. It felt like this:

Image by Safwat Saleem
Image by Safwat Saleem

I cut myself off from more than a few minutes of NPR every morning because even a moment of engaging with the “logic” presented by the Trump campaign made me feel crazy. I had to take some time off from election coverage for the first election since I was really little. This was the first year I wasn’t planning GOTV efforts, phone banking, and studying candidate policies whenever I could. It was a strange place to be… my skill set felt completely useless and I wanted to find some way to participate, even if it meant waiting until after the election.

Thankfully, I ended up here thanks to a story on This American Life about the divide in research and a follow up piece about listening with empathy:

This American Life ran a story in October 2016 about the state of facts and arguments in this election cycle. These sorts of stories used to keep me up for hours, knotted with anxiety about how we recover from this election cycle.

 At one point in this piece, Ira Glass quotes Rush Limbaugh on Fact Checkers in this election reporting through the New York Times and groups like Politfact (which won the Pulitzer Prize for its work):
RUSH LIMBAUGH
THE FACT THAT THENEWYORKTIMES AND THEWASHINGTONPOST AND USATODAY AND ALL THESE OTHER PAPERS AND NETWORKS NOW HAVE FACT-CHECKERS IS FOR ONE REASON. IT ALLOWS THEM TO FOOL YOU. THE IDEA THAT IT IS A FACT-CHECK STORY IS DESIGNED TO SAY TO YOU THAT IT IS OBJECTIVE AND ANALYTICALLY FAIR. AND ALL IT IS IS A VEHICLE FOR THEM TO DO OPINION JOURNALISM UNDER THE GUISE OF FAIRNESS, WHICH, IF YOU FALL FOR IT, GIVES IT EVEN MORE POWER.

For someone who goes through each statement and weighs its accuracy every day… this is terrifying. It is abusive to his audience and it’s damaging to the country as a whole. But it helped me sit there and stare at the language being used to bash what I do every day. I was able to face the problem. In truth, if this is a sentiment… we might not have all the facts we need to make real arguments that people hear.

NEXT This American Life followed this terrifying episode with one that offered some important advice on how we may find a route towards healing. At least, for those willing to rebuild together.

This story dives into the heart of the divisions and spread of misinformation. The section where the community in Minnesota is struggling to make sense of rising anxiety about immigration and refugees and terrorists is telling: one woman calls out her local politician for talking at her, not listening to her concerns and acknowledging them. People are afraid and feel excluded from this political system. This is a fact some choose not to see.

As I listener, I had that moment where I realized, of course! I would never tell a friend that their feelings were irrelevant or wrong. What made it ok to tell an entire population that their feelings were irrelevant or wrong? The only way to reach a solution is to build a common understanding.

Meanwhile, the future doesn’t seem so great and its scary for huge sections of the United States. People are afraid, and no number of times that someone far away in Washington DC or New York or San Francisco saying “it will work out, don’t worry” or “you have nothing to worry about, this (mechanization shift) is better for everyone, will meet them where they are. It’s belittling.

J.D. Vance presents really important points here about his experience growing up in Ohio and the culture shock of coming to Yale Law School.

And people are struggling to manage or mitigate their fear of the present an future in their communities. In the last couple years, whenever I’ve driven through rural Massachusetts, we’ve seen informal memorials going up to remember people who’ve died locally from heroine overdoses.  Heroine’s deadly impact on our communities is visible in so many places, including the rising number of public restrooms that are now closed because local organizations, like churches and gas stations, cannot handle the overdosing cases taking place in these spaces. Suicide rates are at a 30 year high and the future we imagine “fondly” in some places, where machines take over jobs that once kept families fed and housed are disappearing. Worse yet, these struggling families are regularly shamed by even their own politicians for needing support and having trouble finding work that allows them to survive and support their families.

Maybe my role as a researcher and activist can take a different bent, I can fact check but I can also listen better.

When we meet these communities with silence or do not speak to and acknowledge their fears, they will find “information” that does meet them where they are. Information is still a commodity, which means, the informal market will offer solutions if the formal market does not fill existing needs. It is strategically better for everyone if we have direct conversations about things like immigration and disappearing jobs, engaging with both real information and individual concerns and emotions, than it is to ignore it or say these concerns are irrelevant.

I argue that NOT engaging with the emotional tone of communities, their fears and concerns, and their hopes, create a power vacuum for leadership that we see frequently filled in the informal economy or in informal community organizations. I thought back to a lesson from TEDxMidAtlantic in October, where Bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn argued that Bans operate similarly to existing without rules at all. He uses examples from current bans in the US around Stem Cell research and specific procedures that prevent mitochondrial disease from being passed from mother to baby using another mother’s mitochondria. Without rules on acceptable use and discussion, people just seek out methods in the informal economy or the black market to fill their needs, whether that means traveling to a different country or meeting someone off record and, at times, without sufficient medical support or advice.

Turns out, we already know it’s better for business to be sensitive to our teammates’ concerns and be nice. In fact, it’s coming up more and more often. So, why has this shift in team work and collaborative thinking not shifted to politics or debate?

We ask to see leaders who are human and who can speak to our fears, not mercenaries that will act silently in their own interest, overload us with numbers and data we don’t have the capacity to respond to, and then tell us we deserve to suffer. I think we can all relate to a moment or several when facts are not helpful on their own in mitigating some of our fears.

The way I can contribute now and after the election tomorrow, as a fact checker and a researcher, is to listen and bring light to the stories that wont be told if we allow traditional power structures to dictate how we record history. If nothing else, 2016 is a year where business as usual was not enough. We need to listen and record the fears at their roots, talk about where we are as communities, and find a way to heal together. I’ll be running around with a notebook in the back to make sure these stories aren’t lost… and then when we have ALL THE FACTS, we thrive in a fact based system.

Artwork by Safwat Saleem. This is his TED Talk that I still think about daily, especially as I conduct research. 

Fall 2016: Salon Schedule

I’ve been running a salon for women interested in reflecting together for the last four years. We hoped this experiment could lead to a cool network of women interested in answering difficult questions, continuing with their research after college, and supporting each other through life transitions. It has been all of that for me for years, I am very grateful for this community we’ve built together.

To make this easier for new salon leaders, I am posting our fall/winter schedule and topics, maybe to inspire some of their own discussions. I will update it with our readings in case you want to follow along on your own.

SEPTEMBER:
Sunday Sept 25: Family and Community

Questions we’ve been playing with:
– if we’re moving past the mom+dad+2 kids+dog in a white picket fence home, how has the definition of “family” shifted for you? Who do you consider to be your “family?”
– can your community become part of your “family?”
– who do you seek out when you need support?
Some thoughts on community:
Courtney Martin’s the New American Dream
And a really honest essay about one writer’s anxiety and the support system she built with her friends

OCTOBER

Sunday Oct. 9: Death

Kaela’s Intro Email: I had originally been inspired to add this as a salon topic because of IDEO’s event series about death back in May. I realized that I had never really had any long conversation about death with anyone in my life.
There are many ways we could go on this, but we thought we could spring board off of with the idea of ‘what does it mean to be alive versus dead?’ and ‘how do the dead in our lives “live” on once they’ve passed?’
A few things to get your brain moving:
From Diana herself (On Day of the Dead, Memory, and living profiles)
A TED talk about how other communities engage with the dead/death
This group and this other group who are also trying to open conversations on death
And a great insta post shared to use by Connie (who also gave us a few of the links above!)

Sunday Oct 23: Grief

Our questions (brought together by Kaela and Connie)
Thinking about before and after — how do you change before and after you grieve? What does grief bring and how do you build through it?
And how do we deal with the timeline of grief? We have heard of all the stages – but what about the days you feel like you “should feel better” but don’t?
A few readings: 

NOVEMBER

Sunday Nov 6th: Transformation

“Human beings,” Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert observed…, “are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”
Let’s talk about Transformation. There are two questions that we’ve been playing with her that we’d love to hear your reactions to:
1) How do we know when we’ve “transformed” from someone we were or thought we were into a different version of ourselves?
2) And is this transformation really just a chance in perspective? Or is it like shedding a layer of armor and taking up something different?
Some Media:
Maybe change is like the Tower in Tarot (it’s meant to show the destruction at the end before a significant change. You can see it as “doom” and “disaster” like this image depicts, or it can be an opportunity for something new and exciting)
If it is about our perspective, maybe we can rewire towards optimism… I always seems to come back to Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” too
And finally, sometimes relationships transform when we are able to ask questions. In light of this election, I related to this and it helped me feel better, like we can heal after Tuesday.

Sunday Nov 20th: Gratitude (Family style thanksgiving) Dinner

DECEMBER

Sunday December 4th: This Is Water: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Book Discussion
Dec 18th: Holiday Party

JANUARY

Sunday January 8th: Men Explain Things to Me
Sunday January 22nd: Anger

More to come! Please send me questions/readings/thoughts, as they occur to you.

Header photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2d9A8QQ

Modern “Faith” Based Organizations: Creative Mornings

Maybe the modern “faith” based organization can go beyond traditional religious frameworks, I asked myself last Friday morning while I was walking to work after Creative Mornings. I want to unpack what it means to have “faith.”

Background:

Creative Mornings is now an international organization built on small localized groups who agree to host free events on Friday mornings before work in their communities. There is normally a theme, one keynote speaker, and sometimes a musician opener and a handful of 30 second pitches from the community. The audience signs up a few days before the event and joins together for breakfast and conversation before the hour-long live event.

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The audience here in New York is very creative: the usual attendees are researchers, artists, strategists, developers, and students. It is also one of the warmest audiences I’ve ever seen in New York, because it’s an audience that is excited and ready to get up early and explore challenging themes like Risk, Love, Freedom, Ethics, Sex, and Revolution.

What does it mean to have “faith?”

I am very much struggling with this question. If “Faith” is tied to specific organized religions, and I find myself outside of those communities right now, can I explore “faith” more broadly?

For now, I am working with this definition: maybe “faith” can be about hope, and designing for the people and world I hope we can become, that I know we have inside of us when we feel safe and loved. Maybe finding “faith” can be about spending time in communities that share my values and want to work towards a more inclusive, generous, and peaceful world. Let’s start with this as an option.

Creative Mornings introduced me to some new tools and questions about “faith.” 

In June, I went to a Creative Mornings event while in a daze after the Brexit was announced, and it helped me find some direction: instead of mourning what we were losing, I was going to celebrate and support the creators. Michaela Angela Davis asked really challenging questions about race and activism in the United States.

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She also taught us about what it means to think strategically and do the hard things when we need to act. This event set me on a new track to manage my media intake (specifically, on the election and the terror that Trump’s campaign embodies) and it taught me to think more strategically about how I want to participate.

Last week, we explored Love with someone who is very much still healing from her experience losing a child/loved one. Maggie Doyne is known for her work building the next generation of a home for children without families. She shared her very personal journey with grief and finding a way back to her work, and she reminded us, “love is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing that heals us.” To love is a choice, to keep your heart open is a choice.

I've been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for the July Creative Mornings.
I’ve been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for Maggie Doyne at the July Creative Mornings/NY.

That afternoon, I posted “On this day, and every day, Love will win. The darkness cannot take my mind (so I’ll keep learning). It cannot take my joy (so I’ll keep playing). It cannot take my heart, so I’ll keep loving). Love will win. Today and every day.” I received so many letters of love from my friends and mentors. I could create and be part of the community that I thought I was looking for, but really had created around me. I needed this reminder, though I hope one day I will stop questioning it.

I’ll keep coming to Creative Mornings, because it offers a new question to grow into each month. 

This experience, like so many others, depends on what you put into it and how open to the experience you’re willing to be. I appreciate that it helps me explore “faith” and my values each month, and it provides beautiful moments to remind us we’re less alone than we think we are.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve noticed a real desire within my friends/neighbors for a community that discusses ethics and shares values like promoting equal opportunity and values local volunteer work. It started, more loosely, last summer while I was exploring creative communities. In these posts, I am exploring what people are creating in these communities and trying to figure out where I can fit in, support, and keep learning. 

Collecting beautiful little things from the TED Community.

Many darks things in the news these last few weeks (perhaps months, at this point). While it was hard to block it out and re-center for a while, I found my peace in my communities. We cannot let the darkness win, so instead, let us celebrate the good we create together and the beautiful, little things. These are a few things from my community within TED that brought some light and healing into the week.

This week, I briefly caught up with a friend (and previous co-worker) who went to Baton Rouge a week ago to join the protests when we ran into each other in the Strand, unplanned. I was standing over a shelf of books, looking for Andrew Soloman’s newly published collection of essays, but also taking my quiet moment of solace in my favorite of sacred spaces (bookstores). She was taking a break from her office, trying to digest everything that she had seen and experienced, while trying to integrate back into New York. We bought sought that moment of peace over a table of books. I looked up to see her beaming, even through her complicated thoughts and reflections. While it took me a moment to process who I was seeing in front of me, her warmth made my face involuntarily break into an easy smile. That was a moment I needed and celebrate, even while so much else was brewing in the background. Andrew’s TED2014 talk offers some moments of his own healing:

This talk from Adam Savage at TED2016 is a series of beautiful little moments in a very creative community. It was amazing to watch coworkers post this talk this week alongside pictures of their children creating their own costumes, memories from their own adventures in make-believe worlds, and artists sharing stories from their own creative communities.

I went to see Finding Dory this week in a movie theatre with my partner. I forgot how magical Pixar’s movies are. There are characters we’re joking about a week later and scenes I described to my mother, hoping she would go see it too so we could talk about them. It reminds me of the talk from TEDTalks Live this past fall where lighting designer Danielle Feinberg talked about the effect of color and light in animated stories.

I appreciate them even more than I used to, because we work so closely to the amazing animators behind TED-Ed’s Lessons.

This team puts so much love into their work. It’s visible in their work and their willingness to teach others about their craft. They regularly volunteer to do workshops in the rest of our community (and get extremely positive feedback, because they are amazing teachers!) and one animator even teaches art classes regularly in a school in her community!

A friend asked me to send her a talk that gave me hope, and I was grateful to return to this talk by May El-Khalil. Peace is a marathon… we have to build our endurance because in the long run, love will win.

I was also deeply inspired by our community this week. The TED residents gave talks about the projects they are working on, and my friend Sheryl, who is a TEDx organizer and immigration attorney, talked about the value of immigration and immigrant stories in the US. It was the perfect antidote to the waves of far right backlash in politics right now.

Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016
Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016

I am grateful to be part of this community today and every day. The optimism is infectious and the common belief holding us together is a share love for ideas, experiments, creative growth, and hope for a better future. We see the good, here and now, but we also see what we could become and we celebrate it.

I want to end with an essay written by TED’s CEO, Chris Anderson on the value of ideas. It was the hope in the dark we needed, just after the Brexit vote… Ideas matter, more than ever.

Why ideas matter … now more than ever

A few beautiful & challenging ideas from TEDSummit

We started with: “ideas don’t know borders, they’re for the whole world” Important opening talk at by , offering the hope we need

Thought provoking questions from Lesley Hazelton: “The quality of soul is not a tradable commodity.” “Could soul be a matter of being brave enough to be vulnerable?

On public art: “We could have finished sooner, but I think it took us three weeks because of all those tea breaks” on his piece in Egypt. When the piece was finished, he explains the reaction of the owner of one of the homes he painted: “he was really proud to see his house painted — he said it was a project of peace”

“if we have a generation that doesn’t know how to build a fort, we have a generation” that doesn’t care about nature — We have an excuse to make more time to play outside, thanks to Emma Marris.

Without that “radical humanism” we lose “the unnecessary, the intimacy, ugly, and the incomplete.”

Marwa Al-Sabouni is an architect living in Homs, Syria. She teaches, runs a bookshop & works other jobs, against backdrop of war. She is thinking about architecture, communities and the future of her country. She has not given up.

Julia Bacha is documenting female role models in non-violent movements around the world. “If we do not celebrate the leadership of women in conflicts/movements, we fail to show the spectrum of role models” 

Anti-terror measures created by governments needs to be balanced by robust & independent press, it is a necessary check on power, argues Rebecca MacKinnon

Alexander Betts reminded us: Dangerous times if “lies have equal status as truth and evidence.” We need to rebuild research into debate. But this is also an opportunity to revamp our arguments and begin new conversations. If Fear comes from limited information, let’s health together.

Zeynep Tufecki reflects on Turkey, the airport bombing, and her upcoming visit: “We are going to build tolerant societies and I feel that our joy is part of our power.”

Ione Wells, after she was attacked remembered “there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.”

And Pico Iyer, reminding us how comfortable and honest it can be to say “I dont know,” and learning as we go.

Photo header credit: TEDx Global Forum at TEDSummit2016, June 25, 2016, Banff, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED