Social Media Activism: OK. Also Not Enough.

I have a serious love-hate relationship with social media. Love the baby pics and cat videos; hate the subtle encouragement of carefully curated phonyism. Love the possibility of connecting with people on a meaningful level; hate people mistaking transparency for full disclosure. Love catching news and thought-provoking stuff my friends share; hate folks thinking they can change minds with a click.

I'd long accepted that social media activism was "slacktivism."

In the past year, though, I've seen some friends post thought-provoking stuff, and then facilitate the ensuing comment thread with patience and persistence, ultimately resulting in a few others accepting the challenge to think and act differently. I haven't witnessed a Facebook post transform a bigot into a justice warrior, but some social media activists seem to be successful in pushing others, incrementally, in the direction of questioning the systems and their own personal, deeply ingrained beliefs that keep us from making gains toward equality.

And then there's the heart-warming sensation I never get enough of, White Nonsense Roundup.

I'm accepting of some social media activism, and I know it is not a substitute for in-person action, a.k.a. showing up. There are rallies, protests, meetings, and other actions that we must all take, to exercise our voices and advocate for what's right. As I heard DeRay McKesson say early this year, "Protesting is truth telling in public, using our bodies to speak." If we don't show up, we aren't saying much of anything meaningful.

One Year.

One year ago, I watched with horror as everything I thought I knew about politics in the U.S. exploded before my eyes. Since then, I've been one of many Americans picking up the pieces and figuring out how we put it all back together -- better, stronger, longer-lasting.

We've learned things, and yesterday's elections feel like a tiny bit of validation and progress. I feel more hopeful than daunted by uncertainty. The biggest lesson I've learned is that, "He / she is a professional; this is a job for professionals," does not apply to politics and politicians. At my level, it's not so much that I need to be involved in politics as it is I need to stay aware and knowledgeable, and engage and raise my voice, as a citizen in a democracy is obligated.

My last blog post occurred ten months ago, at the start of an organizing whirlwind that is just now leaving space to breathe. I've got a lot on my mind that I'll explore here in the coming weeks. 

Leader-full.

Sitting in a membership meeting of a small arts nonprofit years ago, I couldn’t help but chime in with suggestions and ideas. My friend elbowed me and whispered, “Pipe down, or all your ideas will turn into projects, and you will be expected to spearhead them all.” After initial feelings of panic subsided, I saw the wisdom in how many organizations run on volunteer help. Because even though tiny nonprofits have official, elected leaders, most active members will find themselves at one point or another leading something or some others, even if they don’t have a title. If you have an idea, and you want to see it become reality, you must be ready to take charge and make it happen.

Now, participating in various community organizing meetings, I see the same level of ownership. It is so cool! So energizing. And I find myself less than patient with those in the room who criticize what others are doing, offer an alternative idea, and then ask what everyone else plans to do about it.

I haven’t been able to identify the source of this quote or sentiment (it’s attributed to multiple people, and sometimes not attributed at all), but current movements may feel leaderless, when in fact, they are leader-full. Leaderlessness was one criticism leveled against the Occupy movement, which is first an issue of limited understanding of the movement. To someone who did not experience or otherwise learn about it beyond surface level newspaper coverage, it would seem that the movement was destined to fall apart and “achieve nothing” without a leader. But it didn’t, at least in part because those involved in the movement tried to accommodate as much self-leadership as possible. 

The same spirit of leader-full movements can carry us through the coming years. We need enough citizen leaders. I hope you are all on board.

Tiny Rebel Daily feels like it’s coming to a close. We are all involved in our own individual efforts and projects in this movement, and that’s where the work will get done. I’ll recalibrate the blog content and start adding back sewing posts, book reviews, and the usual hijinks and shenanigans. The movement will always be there. And I’ll always be here for you. Thanks for reading along, accepting my challenges, and doing the work. I’ll return you to more of your normal programming…. xo

Getting Busy.

In only the second week of the new year, I feel reassured at the organization I’ve seen, individuals doing their part to protect our rights, fight for the weakest among us, and continue working for progress: a few stories on the national news about ordinary citizens lobbying their legislators; more than a few Facebook groups getting things done; and personal friends who are attending the meetings, signing up for work, and supporting causes using their talents and skills. Love love love, and thank you thank you thank you. You know who you are.

It’s now been two months since the election. If you’re still sitting on the sidelines, stunned and shocked and praying it’s all a bad dream, please instead find a local group that’s organizing, and get thee to a meeting. And bring a friend. Some organizing can be done virtually, yes, but there’s a unique charge you’ll get from being in the physical company of many other people who feel the same way and are ready to do something about it. 

As Rebecca Solnit wrote in Hope In The Dark: “Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.” Be hopeful! Act!

Since the election, I’ve noticed that some groups prefer to work semi-anonymously, even when the work seems like pretty ordinary citizen engagement. In that spirit, the safest thing to do would be to not share anything that isn’t available from an open, public source. That might mean that this sort-of-daily update becomes less frequent as we (all, hopefully) buckle down and focus on our own engagement. As usual, I’ll figure it out as we go along. 

In the meantime, if you need any help finding your place on this big tug-of-war rope, let me know. For those of you news-and-twitter-savvy folks, there is a cool companion guide to Indivisible called Indivertible, and this one is about individual citizens helping TV news get back on track with reporting… news. Actual news. The first 18 pages had some good info and almost too many inside jokes for me to get through it, but Chapter 4 (the rest of the doc) was meaty.

Three Shares.

1. This video, an excerpt from Harvard Dean James Ryan’s speech at spring 2016 commencement, is making its way around social media again, and for good reason. This seven-minute video includes five great questions for grads, for folks focused on new year’s goals, and for Americans looking into the wide open, gaping maw of the next four years. 

2. Jelani Cobb writes in The New Yorker that “the waves of protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the days after the election look less like spontaneous outrage and more like a preview of what the next four years may hold,” in his commentary, "The Return of Civil Disobedience.” Get ready to remind about half the U.S. that nonviolent resistance, as inconvenient as it can be, remains a promising sign of democracy. 

3. Part II of I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi, who you may know from her blog “Awesomely Luvvie,” is a clear, concise call to the carpet for every single one of us on our privilege, and explains how we must do better, for the world. I have struggled with a couple of friends to communicate privilege, because it’s hard to acknowledge we benefit from an unequal system we didn’t create. Aaaaaaaaand just because we didn’t create it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook for fixing the problems it causes — the deep-rooted, systemic problems that have plagued our country for generations.

Health.

Welcome back from the holiday season! It's time to get back to grown-up business, plus our bonus part-time jobs since Nov 8. 

First and foremost on the list is SELF CARE, my friends. If you have been neglecting exercise these past few weeks as I have, grab a buddy and go for a walk or head to the gym. If you have been eating everything sugar, to the exclusion of food with nutritional value, get thee to the grocery store and stock up on nutrient dense pantry and fridge essentials!!! Make sure you establish a solid foundation of physical and mental health. It’s just 18 days until inauguration, and then the Hunger Games begin. (You know I’m kidding, and I’m not.)

Also, because I'm in a particularly good mood, here's an image that sets the tone for my 2017: a floral pajama pant-wearing sloth, riding a unicorn and brandishing a pizza. It's plenty bizarre and somehow still desirable. It portends good things for the new year, is what I'm saying.

End Of Year Giving.

Non profits are rallying for end of year donations. If you have anything left to give, please donate by tomorrow! I have an unusual cause to present for your consideration: the Right Question Institute.

I found RQI several years ago, when I was studying how to ask better questions when teaching adult learners (which is my “day job”). I ended up immersed in RQI’s network of blogs and many resources, and was able to use what I learned not only as an adult learning professional, but as a home schooling parent. 

The quality of our lives is determined first by the quality of the questions we ask, even for grade school children. RQI helps educators help kids learn to ask better questions — which not only leads to better answers, but builds confidence and ownership of those answers, which leads to action, etc. etc. etc.

I like how RQI sees questions as an equalizer: promoting critical reasoning, increasing engagement, and demanding more of ourselves and society. You can donate to the RQI here.

One more thing: Happy New Year! See you in 2017.

2016.

I’ve fallen into the common habit recently of denouncing 2016 as a complete and utter year from hell. In some ways, it has felt unusually confusing and hard to take. In other ways, the events of the year may simply be additional “rites of passage” that happen for everyone who lives into middle age, but just hadn’t happened yet for us, or me, i.e.:

  • The election has activated me, and many others around me. Maybe every generation has at least one major event that spurs us out of complacency and into measurably increased civic duty, and this was Gen X’s.
  • In my 40’s, I am increasingly clear about my personal values, and increasingly unwilling to compromise a future that doesn’t reflect those values. Staring down the next four years means standing up for my values in a more direct and transparent way that I’ve been used to.
  • Gen X feels vital, healthy, fit, and alive, but Gen X's childhood pop culture icons are entering their twilight years. Although I’d like to say “no more torturing 80’s kids with their pop heroes’ deaths,” I am sure we have just entered this new territory (for us), and we will learn to cope better. (R.I.P. Prince Rogers Nelson)

Viewing the past 12 months from that perspective, I realize that we have never been better prepared to face these challenges and changes. We are smarter, sharper, faster, and wiser than we’ve ever been before. That’s not a dare to 2017 — it’s a welcome. 

We are ready.

Shouting.

Communicating progressive ideas to a resistant audience is an interesting thing to ponder. 

One on one, with someone I love, I must do a better job of listening. Asking. Being patient. Remembering that this conversation is one of many more I intend to have with this person, and I don’t have to “accomplish” anything in this one conversation except to listen and learn. Maybe, over time, this person will be ready to listen to me. And I will have had time to put more of my heart into fewer words. When we are all ready to listen to each other and learn, we will be able to move forward together in a civilized way.

In fact, I am not sure that I should do anything different one on one, even if talking with someone I don’t love, with whom I may never have another conversation in my life. Listen and learn. After all, if shouting at people on social media doesn’t change minds, why would that approach work face to face?

But nearly every other occasion seems ripe for shouting, for raising our voices as loud as we need to be heard. I’m dismayed by the toothless, ineffective, and uninspiring game of liberal establishment politics I’ve seen played on my behalf since 2000 or so. While citizen activists like us are volunteering, canvassing, organizing, and otherwise showing up, I expect those who represent me to figure out how to win the game at their level. And whether that game is called confrontation politics or obstructionist politics or resistance or progressiveness or whatever, I want my elected officials to play to win, or get out.

(These thoughts are loosely inspired by this essay on civility in a new presidential era.)

Unwanted Filter.

How was your Christmas? Ours was very low-key and laid back. No one told me that once a 12-year-old turns 13, sleep is more important than presents. And the teen woke up kind of cranky! At noon! It was like we had our own personal Grinch.

I’d started reading the Anna Kendrick memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody, on Christmas Eve. And despite carrying it around the house with me the next day, I had no desire to read it. That’s not like me — memoirs are my reading equivalent of a bag of Kettle brand salt and cracked black pepper chips: guilty pleasure, consumed in record time. She’s not a bad writer. There are some funny moments. Maybe my reading tastes are changing, and fun and frivolous tales of young privilege are simply not enjoyable to me anymore. 

But more likely, the past 6 weeks I've felt like I’m living the same life with a filter over it. A filter I'd never choose BTW, that never seems flattering on anyone else's Instagram pics, either — and I’m still living my life with this unwanted filter laid over it, and I keep messing with the RGB settings to try to get things to feel just right. Anna Kendrick’s book may have delighted me on Nov 7, but today, it is not reading right. So I’ll get back to Dark Money, which hits a little close to home and should be on all our required reading lists anyway.

Merry Christmas.

I came down with a cold! It's not the worst, but my energy level depletes quickly. Even my outrage is on hold for now.

With Christmas so close, I'll wish you all lovely holidays. Whatever holidays you celebrate, I still stand by your right to celebrate them in peace and with all the love in the world, and so should anyone who says they believe in freedom of religion.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. LOL

See you next week. xoxo

No One Is Coming To Save Us.

We’ll have to save ourselves.

BTW I have heard not heard back from the BLM Austin chapter, nor from Our Revolution. But I’ve been flexing my calling, emailing, letter writing, and blogging muscles — and I hope you have been, too. Because no one is coming to save us. And there is a lot of work to do.

I’m thinking back to my Tuesday driver last week, and his insistence on a long-winded narrative that had no factual basis. His ability to accept what he’d heard, without any proof, and repeat it back verbatim. A question that’s been on my mind for a long time now, that needs to be answered, is: How can facts win over a false narrative? Is that even possible, if facts and fantasies don’t exist in the same plane?

Early this year, I’d read about Derek Black (here’s a good article) , the hope / future / heir apparent of the white nationalist movement, until he went to college and learned that people who were different from him weren’t necessarily bad — in fact, those he got to know were decent, honest, kind, and trustworthy people. He risked being ostracized from his family to live in honor of a new, inclusive set of values, incompatible with white nationalism. 

I don’t know that any of Black’s college friends tried “fact”-ing him. They helped him experience for himself, rather than allow him to accept what he’s been told.

Not everyone who voted for the president-elect is as blatantly racist as Derek Black. But how can we can help people we care about, who voted for the president-elect, experience different slices of life (aka expand their experiences), so that they allow experience to challenge their fantasy?

Privilege And Immunity.

It occurred to me, during the George Zimmerman trial and after Tamir Rice was killed, that I had no idea if society saw my son as a white kid or a child of color. I decided to weave current events into his history studies, so that he had a modern context. I wanted him to understand injustice from the point of view of the oppressed, so that if he grew up to be seen as a white man with all attendant privileges, he would embrace his responsibility to lend his voice to important social causes and fight for those who would benefit from his privilege.

Attending high school as a brown adolescent from a middle-class working family in a diverse school community, I did not experience privilege. All my life I’ve naturally identified with the oppressed. But I guess I have made the most of my education and professional opportunities, and in early middle age, it would appear that I enjoy lots of privilege now. I know this because I realized after the election that if I do nothing different in my life in the next four years, if I don’t step up and speak out more about the incongruence between the values of our country and my values as an American, my family and I will still feel more insulated than average.

And because I will probably always empathize with the oppressed, standing on the sidelines is not good enough for me.

My working theory is that anyone who is not making changes in how they stand up and speak out feels immune to potential changes because of their privilege. 

In other words, if someone is not more active in their community every day since Nov 8, if they are not committed to engaging more actively as a citizen, if they are not ready to fight for the rights of the oppressed, they must feel like they don’t have anything to lose. (Or they genuinely have the luxury of privilege. For now.)

Does that seem harsh or oversimplified?

I can’t help but remember the Niemoller quote after World War II:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Tonight there are rallies going on all over the country, as it is the day of the Electoral College vote. I encourage you to show up for one, and bring a friend who may need some peer pressure to get their head back in the game. We are just a month from inauguration and there’s a lot of work to do.

Listen To Learn.

In a class I used to teach, we discussed the (particularly American) tendency to listen to another speak just long enough to form our reply. Then we stop hearing the other person, even if they are still saying something, because we are working on what we will say next. It feels faster and more productive this way; if I don’t have an immediate response I’ll look dumb; yes yes yes, let’s just get back to the point I was trying to make.

We miss a lot when we don’t listen to learn. We miss everything else the other person is saying. We miss an opportunity to hear and connect with and be influenced by this person more fully.

During a ride back to my hotel from a holiday party the other night, I remembered this, and willed myself into silent, active listening.

The previous 20 minutes had been a textbook display of two people talking at each other, my driver unleashing a torrent of nonfactual propaganda, punctuated with my insistent questions, “Where did you learn this? What’s the source of these numbers? Who told you this? How do you know it’s true?”

His response, predictably: “Google it! It’s everywhere!”

Stop. Breathe. Listen.

He repeated nearly every urban legend, cautionary tale, nightmare, and flat-out lie generated this year. I was mildly belittled, condescended to, patronized, mansplained, and put in various boxes in which I don’t actually belong. I listened to his fairy tale dream of the world to come in the next presidential administration. “Just watch, Antoinette,” all wrongs will be righted and justice will prevail.

After 25 minutes of listening to learn, Google Maps showed we were close to my hotel. I broke into the tirade, “Listen, I met you not even an hour ago. You seem like an incredibly nice person. I’m sorry that 2016 has been so tough for you, and I hope that the president-elect delivers on all the promises that will improve your life, and our country. But if he doesn’t, I just ask that you dig deeper, and fact check what you hear. Don’t just assume that something is true because Google shows you search results. Click through, see who is writing this stuff, and make sure they are not driven by political, corporate, or foreign interests.”

The next morning, he sent me a text:

Makes me laugh that he talked 80% of the time and perceives that we had a good conversation, but as always, I have hope. 

BTW this document called Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda was shared by reliable sources I know personally. I haven’t read the entire doc yet, but wanted to pass it on because it was recommended enthusiastically. Have a great weekend.

Listen.

"Listen" was my theme for 2016. A decent challenge for someone who’s used to talking a lot. And I’ve had a few recent opportunities to listen. Last night I spent 50 minutes in a car, with a driver who could recite every script he’d heard on an astounding number of fake news items -- but could not give me one solid source for anything he said. “Just Google it!” he said on repeat.

This morning, I rode with a different driver who called himself a “progressive libertarian” (and he seemed to be exactly that). When we talked about sources for unbiased news, he said he reads everything, even the stuff that he mocks and has no factual basis, just so that he has the most complete view of the news.

How much time does that take, anyway? That’s a lot of work. Ideally I’d find two or three sources that I could trust to do that work of scouring, reading, and curating, and reporting back what I need to know.

Another friend sent me the graphic below in response to yesterday’s post. Don’t know who created it, but I find myself questioning the bias of this person, too. Haha. EXCUSE ME WHILE I MAKE A POINTY TIN FOIL HAT

New News.

For years I snickered privately about the fantasy world that Fox News creates, inspired by but often not based on facts or reality. A massive serving of humble pie fell onto my head on Nov 8 when Hillary Clinton, overwhelmingly favored by every major news outlet I read, did not win the election.

Echo chamber much?

Yes, and I didn’t even realize it.

For the past 5 weeks, I’ve been asking myself:

  • Where I am getting my news?
  • Is that news based on fact, or a complete enough view of reality?
  • Who can I trust to report the news to me?

My main source of election news was The New York Times. But there’s a lot of world outside of New York, and I see now the dearth of NYT reporting this year in those rust belt states that decided the election. For that and a couple other reasons, I canceled my NYT subscription.

Then I turned a critical eye to the news stories I saw on social media. Huffington Post articles felt insanely melodramatic in the immediate post-election days. I somehow wound up getting a daily email summary of Daily Kos headlines, and let me tell you! I’d click through to a story that was far less sinister than the overly sensationalized headline.

This task of finding the best news outlets for factual, big-picture-reality based news is harder than I thought it would be. I want objectivity, but if there is a human reporter involved, there will always be a subjective slant. I want a news source that is not beholden to corporate or political interests, but have no idea how such a source would receive adequate funding to do the in-depth investigative reporting I want (are there enough people like me who will patronize it?). And as I’m vetting news outlets, how much fact-checking can I reasonably do, as one individual citizen with a full-time job that is not in media or journalism, just to make informed opinions and decisions about the world? 

Where do you get your news? How well do you think they report news that is factual, objective, and comprehensive?

Sync.

Hey, guess what? The blog is now linked up to the Tiny Rebel Daily email list! So M-F I'll post to the blog, and if you’re subscribed to the Tiny Rebel Daily newsletter, you'll get the post emailed to you with the Tiny Rebel Daily header. Based on the test emails yesterday, it works but doesn’t look very pretty. I’ll sort that out in the next couple of weeks. For the time being though, if you are seeing this blog post via MailChimp email, you can now click through to the blog post and leave a comment!!! (If you are wondering what the Tiny Rebel Daily is, you can access and read the archives here.)

So how are your stepped-up civic efforts going? For those of you who were unsure where to contribute your time and talents, what have you decided? Tell me! And then I’ll stop bugging you. Probably. ;)

Here’s my update: This weekend, I found tons of information on Our Revolution’s current work, but had to submit a form to inquire about specific volunteer opportunities. I found less info online about Black Lives Matter’s Austin chapter, but likewise submitted a form there, and I included info from my volunteer profile that I wrote last week so that they can connect me with someone who needs the kind of help I can provide. And I have been reading some thought-provoking essays and commentary on language, facts, and media, like this op-ed about ordinary citizens vigilantly fact-checking in this new world of make-believe, and this powerful argument for precision in our words. It's inspiring my own thinking and writing, which I'll share in the coming weeks and hope you'll help me figure it out.