Recently your social media feed has probably been full of posts from your friends saying things like “Call your congressman/representative/senator and tell them what you think about x/y/z issue”. So many issues, so little time. (Do you ever wonder if your friends actually call? Or is that just me?) Regardless, if you’re anything like me, the idea of calling your elected officials makes you nauseous, anxious and stuck in paralyzed limbo. To call or not to call, that is the true Shakespearean question. Whether you have no idea who your representatives are or call so much that you feel like Adele yelling into the void, read on, because we feel you.
If you have no idea who your representatives are, no judgment. You’re going to learn and that’s what counts. Or maybe you think you know, but don’t know their phone number. Either way, Contacting Congress has everything you need. (https://contactingcongress.org/) All you have to do is type in your address and they will do the rest. Contacting Congress will not only provide you with their contact information (address, telephone number, fax number), but also all the links you need to study up on them. Peruse their social media sites, learn about their committee appointments and see statistics about their district. (Which, really, is your district.)
Life Hack: Save their number in your phone. (Really, I’ll wait.) It’ll be annoying to look it up every time. Plus, only having to click on their contact listing has helped me to use my impulsive side to my advantage. One click and the phone is ringing before you can even stop yourself.
Before you call, have an idea of what you’re going to say. This can be as simple as thinking it through, or actually writing it down. (I recommend having something written down because my mind tends to go totally blank at very inopportune moments.) If you’re calling about a more popular issue, there’s a good chance that people on the internet have written and posted mock scripts for others to use. All you have to do is insert your name and your representatives name and then you can read it word for word. If you’re calling your local representative (which I highly recommend), then there may not be a script available online. (Although it may be worth a quick Google search.) I usually keep it simple and say my name, address and which way I want them to vote on a specific issue. If you have a story or reason that you feel passionate, feel free to tack that on the end.
Life Hack: Does the idea of actually having to talk to an office staffer make you feel like you’d rather listen to ‘Call Me Maybe’ on repeat for the rest of your life than call? (This is 1000000% me.) If so, just call before the office opens. Nothing like guaranteed voicemail to help assuage some of that anxiety. Yes, sometimes their voicemail boxes are full. If that happens, I wait until right after the office closes and try again. Usually they’ve cleared the voicemail sometime throughout the day. (If not, I recommend joining in on to the complaining that is probably already happening on Twitter.)
(Bonus life hack: Start out calling a representative that did something you agree with. Nothing will make you feel more invincible than leaving a positive message. I like to end my voicemails to Bob Casey by yelling ‘Keep fighting Senator Casey!’ It makes me smile and I like to think that it makes someone in his office smile too.)
If, after all this, I’m still struggling to make the call, I offer myself the same pep talk. Even if I’m the most awkward person that staffer talks to (or listens to, if I’ve left a voicemail), tomorrow is another day and there will be another awkward person to take my place. Recently people have been flooding offices with calls and the time for judgment between calls is fleeting. And, even if they are judging you, you aren’t the one making the decisions that are causing all these calls. On a scale of awkward or hated politician, I will always pick awkward.
Women of color have higher college completion rates than their male counterparts, but have zero or negative wealth. How is this possible? Well, the current sociopolitical system in America is structured to continually oppress women of color. Since 2007, the median wealth for Black and Latina women is between $100-$120, which is devastatingly low.
Based out of New York, BlackFem, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to building opportunities for women of color so, in the future, they can attain and build wealth. Chloe Mckenzie, the 24 year-old founder and CEO of BlackFem, started this organization after witnessing flaws and gaps in financial services while working as a trader at J.P. Morgan. “I felt as though I was not serving in such a way that I could feel as though I was truly helping those less fortunate,” Chloe explains. Her organization has dedicated programs for girls as young as 3, and women through adulthood.
One of their programs, Money Does Grow on Trees, is centered around saving and compound interest and is taught from Pre-K to 2nd grade. Each participant in this program opens a savings account by the end. One participant, Azariah, left this program knowing how to make a balance sheet and plan out what assets she will have when she gets older. I am pretty sure she knows more than I do about assets and compound interest. The knowledge she is acquiring through these programs is both important and beneficial to her success as she gets older. You go, girl!
The goal is not to make women of color rich, but to provide the necessary tools to break this cycle of oppression and to empower women and girls of color to believe they can be wealthy. Gaining these tools and resources in order to obtain wealth and financial knowledge isn’t just a personal gain, but a generational one. Many women who have participated in the BlackFem programs continually reiterate that this lack of access to financial tools comes from years of denied access for their parents, grandparents, and so on. By gaining this access, they can then pass this knowledge down to their children, so they can utilize these tools and lead a successful life.
BlackFem, additionally, has an At School After School program with a school bank. This program has three essential components: 1) The school bank, where students create student credit reports for their peers at school, 2) the school currency, which students earn as their credit score increases, and 3) the the school store, where students can use their currency to purchase things like school supplies and movie tickets. This program is designed to give the students a hands-on experience with balancing and budgeting money and credit that they have earned through class attendance and homework completion. BlackFem will be partnering with 20 schools in high-poverty communities beginning next school year. To learn more about the after school programs and how you could help, please visit their school offerings page here.
BlackFem’s goal is to help 5,000 women and girls of color by the end of 2017, but they can’t do it without your help. Please visit their website to donate or get involved through volunteering, sponsoring, or bringing programs to your local schools. Help these women and girls out there succeed and gain the financial literacy they deserve.
Follow them on Twitter and visit their website today!
On October 15, 1991, at age five, Alessandra Biaggi’s passion for women in politics was awakened. She was attending the opening of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which was founded by her grandfather, Representative Mario Biaggi of New York. Then-State Attorney for Dade County and eventual-Attorney General Janet Reno spoke at the dedication. After the ceremony, Alessandra met Reno personally. Though Alessandra has been told before that women could succeed in politics, seeing Reno in real life was concrete proof of it.
Throughout her childhood, Alessandra’s family supported her political ambitions. They encouraged her to be thoughtful and critical. “When I’d say ‘I really wanna do X,’ my parents would ask me why I want to do that, who it’ll help, how it would affect the community, stuff like that. They were priming me.”
Alessandra entered politics with an internship for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). She went on to work at the Kings County D.A.’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY, the Presidential Succession Clinic at the John D. Feerick Center for Social Justice as an editor, and the NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as Assistant General Counsel.
In early 2015, Alessandra was offered a position on the vetting team of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She accepted immediately, ecstatic about the opportunity to help elect the first female president in United States history.
On April 1, her official title on the campaign became Deputy National Operations Director. She described her roles and responsibilities as “literally everything.”
“I was helping balance the budget, I was requesting extra funds, I was helping them sort all the merch while working the compliance… All of the hiring for all dates as well as all of the offices, which includes negotiating leases… All of the paid canvassing programs, GOTV, everything that you can imagine at this point fell underneath operations.”
Alessandra described the days following Election Day as a “blur.” The sense of loss was heavy, with two suicides in her network of friends occurring “as a result of the stress caused by the current state of our country and the political climate.”
However, she did not fall into a state of despair. She said that there was a quote from Persian poet Rumi that became her mantra following the election: “The wound is the place where the light enters.”
So along with thousands of other women across the country, Alessandra redirected her suffering into action.
She created an extensive “Take Action Guide for Activism” to help activists and organizers get involved with progressive politics and stay informed in a time when every Trump tweet becomes a national headline. The guide is unbelievably comprehensive, providing readers with links to grassroots organizations across the country that focus on everything from immigration to rebuilding the Democratic Party at a state level to helping women run for office to civics education, and so on.
“We all need to jump on board and link arms. That’s how you get stronger.”
One of her main focuses has been connecting people. “I would say that one of my superpowers is identifying what people are working on and identifying people in my network already and then connecting them… This is my ritual of democracy.”
For example, at The New Agenda, a nonpartisan organization “started after the 2008 election cycle because of how the media was treating Hillary Clinton,” Alessandra helped organize National Girlfriends Networking Day. “They have different events across the country that they stream the one event from New York City into. It’s basically a network of women to support other women, so it’s like a mentor-mentee networking group focused on young women, middle-aged women, and older women.”
But while she has found many meaningful ways to get involved, Alessandra knows that civic engagement is not easy. She recommends that folks start by asking themselves three questions.
The first is a personal one: “What does it mean to be a citizen?” In other words, the infamous words of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
To Alessandra, the question of what it means to be a citizen “begs the answer” of “social change.” “How we’re going to have that social change” leads to the next question:
“How do you create community?“
Once you pinpoint what you care about, Alessandra says, you should find a community that shares your interests.
If “it doesn’t exist… create that group!” And that leads to the final question:
What’s the way in which my voice can be most heard, or where can I make the most impact?
Alessandra said that once you have found your “tribe,” you have the strength in numbers to set concrete group goals that can make a real difference. Whether it be making 50 calls to a senator, holding workshops, creating a PAC, or signing up for ResistBot, Alessandra’s final question is meant to guide people to their own “Rituals for Democracy.”
“I think we need to treat activism and our engagement as another thing that we schedule… What can I do in a day, what can I do in a week… We have to break it down for people like that because not everything is for all of us.”
For progressives who want to get involved in politics in particular, Alessandra says that the best way is always to volunteer.
“Volunteer in a campaign office, and from there you meet the staff, and then you become an organizer and then organizers go into headquarters, and it just grows there. But you have to start with what you got, and usually what you got is a field office, so volunteer for a candidate that you care about.”
“Volunteer, cause that’s where the people are.”
Volunteering for progressives candidates is especially important given the midterms occurring next year. But women can do more than just volunteer.
“My call to action for women would be to consider running for office even if they’ve never considered it before and if not for federal office or even state, consider putting their name in the ring for non-competitive seats on the county level. There are many roles, upwards of 500,000 public offices that you can hold, and we need more women.”
But what are the next steps after consideration? How can women actually prepare themselves to run for public office?
“You can do all the training in the world, and you’ll never be ready. You just do it because you make the decision. There will be a support network around you once you decide to do it, that’s no question, so equip yourself with the right tools. Take a training. Go online, look at the courses. She Should Run has an online incubator that you can do from home. Look wherever you are, see what training groups can help. The Yale Women’s Campaign School or New Leader Council, these different groups have all of these different trainings and make yourself the most prepared that you possibly can. Figure out what issues you care about and just run.”
Alessandra already knows what her top issue is: women in politics. It is what she’s dedicating her life to at the moment through public speaking and advocacy. But she hopes that soon, she will be able to empower women from a different position. When I asked her if she plans to work on the presidential campaign in 2020, she told me:
“If it were a campaign I believed in as much as I believed in Secretary Clinton’s. So the bar is very high. But the next campaign I hope to work on is my own.”
Indigenous activist James Singer officially launched his candidacy for the United States Senate this week. He will be challenging Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch as a Democrat in the 2018 Utah race.
Singer is a 34-year-old Utah native who has spent his life fighting for equality, particularly for Native Americans. He was inspired to run for office by the sickening treatment of indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, and what that said about the American political system.
“I was moved to action as I saw my Native sisters and brothers stand against an encroachment which threatened not only their inherent sovereignty, but also their humanity,” the Navajo Mormon wrote in a campaign mission statement. “These water protectors were pummeled with rubber bullets, sprayed with powerful water cannons in freezing temperatures, attacked with dogs, and shot with pepper spray, while bulldozers cleared away sacred land and burial sites so that a pipeline could be pushed through. The love of money by a small, but powerful few, is sickening to the rest of Americans, regardless of political affiliation.”
Singer has crafted a platform that successfully combines economic populism with equality for marginalized Americans, something the Democratic Party has struggled with, especially in the past year with the failure of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Inequality “exacerbates racism and sexism” and “has a direct effect on many of the social problems we face in healthcare, education, and the environment,” says Singer.
Though Singer is clearly running a quite progressive campaign, he, like many other liberal candidates, is trying to brand himself as an outsider who does not fall into traditional partisan categories. In his mission statement, he criticizes both Democrats and Republicans, essentially saying that they have become one and the same by embracing corporate capitalism that exploits working Americans. Like Bernie Sanders, who Singer states he was inspired by, Singer ends his mission statement describing “A Future to Believe In” – “We can move towards a socially democratic future of shared prosperity, justice, respect, greater equality, and cooperation.”
Democrats have not seriously focused on Utah for many years now. Utah has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970. No recent Utah Senate races have even been competitive. In 2016, incumbent Republican Mike Lee crushed Democratic challenger Misty Snow by a whopping 41 points. In 2012, Hatch crushed his opponent by 35 points. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has already announced that it plans to focus its resources on re-electing the 10 Democrats who are running in 2018 in states won by Donald Trump. As with other Democratic Senate candidates in red states, it seems that Singer must rely on grassroots liberal enthusiasm if he is to compete with Orrin Hatch, or potentially Mitt Romney or Evan McMullin, in 2018.
So far, Singer has raised almost $3000 of his $5000 Crowdpac goal. This is nothing compared to Hatch’s $3.5 million, but it’s a start. And even if Singer doesn’t win the seat or even secure the Democratic nomination, he is still doing important work as an indigenous candidate. At his campaign launch, he told the crowd: “In 2018, there should be native people running in every contest.”
Zoey Salsbury, a junior at American University, recently launched MailMeToTheGOP.com, a website that helps allow Americans to get their ashes sent to Republican congressmen who voted for the AHCA if “they die from lack of access to health care.”
“People will literally die,” Salsbury told The Huffington Post. “It’s really morbid and not fun to talk about. But that’s the reality of passing a health care bill like this.”
The AHCA, the bill House Republicans and Donald Trump crafted as the fulfillment of their “repeal and replace Obamacare” promise, passed the House of Representatives yesterday by only four votes. It is a wildly unpopular and cruel piece of legislation that would strip tens of millions of Americans of healthcare.
In essence, the AHCA is a massive tax cut for the wealthy that would deny affordable coverage to the millions of Americans who most need it. The Republican Party has always been cruel, but it is still unbelievable that 217 GOP congressmen would vote for a bill that would quite literally end the lives of American citizens.
My combat tour in Iraq resulted in enough disability to make me uninsurable, but not enough to get all my healthcare through the VA. You killed me, you prick.
Asthma. I cannot afford to be in a high-risk pool and without health insurance, I will die of an asthma attack. I will die of an easily controlled incurable lung disease that affects millions. I hope my parents put my blue-faced body on Congressman Lloyd Smucker’s doorstep.
because you took away my fucking insurance
This morning, the House vote for the AHCA sent a strong message to my family – some of which who are your loyal constituents. Today, half of Congress made it clear that American lives are meaningless. Today, this vote said that funding the wealthy is more important than my father receiving insulin, my mother purchasing antidepressants, or me finding comfort and safety through assistance following on-campus rape. You are all meant to represent and serve the people, but today it was clear that you only serve yourselves. Today, I implore you think about what an American life is worth. I beg you to think of your family, your friends, and your fellow citizens. Worry about the future of your Senate seat as well as your conscience if you choose to push AHCA forward. If you want blood on your hands, continue to fight against the basic human right to public health. If you want to lose voters through death and poverty, push this through. But if you have any sense of morality and duty to this country, stand up for what is right. Vote no to AHCA and vote yes to the continued health and wellbeing of Americans. Be better.
I have incurable brain cancer. And if prices skyrocket and subsidies are hard to maintain it will shorted my already shortened life and put my family in significant financial jeopardy.
The website has a “send my ashes to the GOP” form where “donors” can fill out their information and even choose which Republican congressmen they want their remains to be sent to.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score has not yet been released for the AHCA, so we do not know quite how many more this version of the bill would leave uninsured than the last. But the reality is that if congressional Republicans get their way here, people will die. I will not be covered under the AHCA, and it’s fairly likely, dear reader, that you won’t be either.
2016 was terrible for a host of reasons. Prince died. Brexit happened. Independence Day without Will Smith. And that’s not even mentioning an election full of email servers, sexist comments and two amnesia filled moments for Gary Johnson. (Actually – those were pretty funny.) But, 2016 was truly a lost cause because of the one thing that none of us knew we were missing – the Crooked Media empire.
Like the rest of us, Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor (and weekly guest host Dan Pfeiffer) spent 2016 obsessively following politics and trying to assuage the feeling that Donald Trump was consuming America faster than a man-eating virus. Except, while we were all sitting at bars and crying into our beers, they were hosting the Keepin’ it 1600 podcast for The Ringer. (In case you’re feeling nostalgic for a simpler time, The Ringer still has some of the shows available for streaming.) When the election news knocked us all down, the boys decided that now was the time to take their audience, and their charming sense of impropriety, in a new direction. Enter Crooked Media, which they describe as a “place to talk about politics the way actual human beings talk.” They started in January with one show, Pod Save America, and have since expanded to a roster of 5 shows producing 6 episodes a week.
So what makes this grouping so magical? A show built on the idea of three young white guys sitting in a room laughing at each others jokes doesn’t immediately spell success. Part of the appeal comes from the fact that, as their mission statement suggests, they talk more like your friends at a bar than the pundits on television. In a world full of confusion and political spin, everyone from the most obsessive to the most casual news consumer is looking for a forthright option. Most, if not all of us, are looking for smart people who can help make sense of a political climate that no longer seems to add up. Little did any of us think that we would find the straightforward solution in a group that proudly wears the mantle of being ‘crooked’.
Besides being educational, Crooked Media also brings an easy candor to conversations about hard topics. After 2016 many of us thought that we would never laugh again, but the company has unabashedly and successfully staked its claim at the intersection of scholastic and sarcastic. Pod Save America episodes include a run-down of the most salient news topics plus an interview with a leading politician, organizer, journalist or other noteworthy figure, which usually begin with the boys asking their guests the loaded and appropriate question ‘Since Donald Trump is president – how are you doing?’
This popularity paved the way for the corresponding show Pod Save the World, where Tommy Vietor showcases his foreign policy capabilities with today’s experts. Friend of the Pod (a status which we all covet) Ana Marie Cox now has her own show, WithFriends like These, which discusses the different ways we can bridge divides, while activist DeRay Mckesson just launched Pod Save the People. This article would be remiss (and probably called out by the man himself) if it didn’t mention that Jon Lovett also has his own spin-off, Lovett or Leave It, which is a celebrity filled game show focused solely on the news. A strange combination that, as the title implies, either you’ll love, or you won’t.
In roughly five months, Crooked Media has grown from 3 guys with a dream (or, three and a half if you count Dan Pfeiffer) to a company with at least one of their podcasts consistently in the Apple Podcast App’s Top Ten List every week. (Specific streaming numbers are hard to come by, but they have almost 14,000 reviews on Pod Save America alone.) The question remains as to whether their blistering brand of information and irritation (mostly Jon Lovett) will continue to be relevant as the Trump autocracy (excuse me, so called democracy) continues to unfold. But, for right now, it’s enough that they are hitting a nerve (and a funny bone) in a way that the American people seem to desperately need.
There’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that’s become quite relevant since the election: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” It’s always been fairly popular, most likely because there are many people who appreciate the idea that somewhere inside them lurks a person that just needs some greatness to find ’em.
Well, America, it’s 2017. If nothing else, it might be safe to say that we have found our greatness. Indeed, it could even be argued that it has been thrust upon us.
But greatness, like many things, can mean different things to different people. Some people choose to express it by posting ethnonationalist Pepe memes on Twitter. Ana Breton, on the other hand, is organizing La Marcha de Mayo, a 10,000 person strong march celebrating the lives and contributions of Latinx immigrants to the United States.
“I just felt this anger and needed to do something about it,” she said. “I couldn’t be sad. I had to do something.”
For Breton, who was born in Mexico City, Trump’s call for a border wall that would restrict migration into the United States was a tangible threat that would actively hurt her community. After attending the Women’s March on Washington, she started looking for immigration marches or rallies in New York City that she could join, but found none. For most people, this would have been the end of the story.
Ana, instead, collided with her moment of greatness.
“It was spontaneous,” she said. “Just: ‘I’m going to create a march for this!’”
Within three days, 10,000 people had RSVP’d on her Facebook event, each responding to the same urgency to take action. Breton, who works as a digital producer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and has never organized before, had to google both “How to hold a March” and “How to hold a Rally.”
“I found out I needed to get a permit, but that’s actually quite easy to get,” she said. Harder is keeping track of the emails – she had to create a new account just for the march.
Immediately, offers of help came pouring in from all different types of people, almost none of them professional activists. Of the 30 main volunteers who meet on weekends to plan La Marcha, there are three high school teachers, a holistic coach, a makeup artist, and a mom and daughter team.
One of the volunteers, a graphic designer named Isabela Montalvo, contacted Breton after the election to say that she wanted to put her talents to good use for social justice causes. She’s since designed all the social media buttons and flyers for La Marcha, devoting services that Breton emphasized could have gone towards paying professionals-for-hire.
“The movement has been taken on by regular people,” Breton said. “The best thing that I was able to do was give someone a platform to do what they love.”
Greatness: small and banal, and all the more amazing for the simplicity of 30 people realizing that they could do something important, that they might have been the ones they were waiting for.
These volunteers have already managed to put together an art show that raised $4,000 towards the cost of the rally, and their efforts were eventually noticed by Mixteca, a nonprofit organization with prior experience holding marches and rallies. Mixteca became their sponsor, and any money not used at the march will be donated to Mixteca to help with their mission of empowering Mexican and Latin-American immigrants in New York City.
The march itself promises to look a little different from the ones we’ve so far seen on CNN – a celebration of the community rather than a true protest against the Trump administration. There will be music played by local bands along the route as well as an art show displaying the work of Latinx immigrants, which will hopefully mitigate the sometimes awkward patches of silence seen at past marches.
“We get to shape what we want this march to look like,” Breton said. “One thing we’re trying to do with the rally is to show off voices and give platforms to voices we haven’t heard before.”
And here’s where it gets even more interesting: when most of your team has never done something like this before, your rally doesn’t end up looking like any of the others. Unburdened by the cynicism and instincts born of years of experience, the volunteers at La Marcha just asked each other who was someone they really wanted to hear speak and invited them.
“There’s usually lots of politicians and celebrities [at rallies like this], and no offense to them, but we didn’t really want to do something like that,” Breton said. “Lot of people are scared and hiding because of how they’re perceived and we’re trying to bring out their voices.”
In this case, that means reflecting in their lineup that there isn’t one type of immigrant, or one type of Latinx-American. Groups highlighted include Afro-Latinx and Muslim-Latinx, amongst others.
“We’re trying to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible.”
In the months since Ana Breton first created the La Marcha de Mayo Facebook event, she’s found herself overwhelmingly emotional in a positive way.
“Anytime someone posts on the Facebook event I get emotional,” she said. “Nonstop happy crying.”
If Breton has a takeaway from her first experience with political activism, it’s that any person can start a movement. La Marcha de Mayo has gained so much traction over the past months that there are talks of turning it into an organization to help the anti-Trump Resistance movement and immigrants in New York City. For now, her only hope is that at least one person will show up on May 6th and learn about how immigrants make our country stronger.
In the days (and weeks and months) since the election, we’ve all seen what appears to be some of the greatest examples of public political engagement in the modern era. People, mobilized on the streets, gathered at airports and marching down streets in groups ranging from three to 300,000. People calling their representatives over and over again, attending town halls, deciding to run for office, each of them looking around and thinking: if not me, then who? If not now, then when? Millions of Americans, each experiencing the mantle of greatness being thrust upon them and assuming it with grace.
Because apparently, it really does take Donald Trump to Make America Great. He’ll even be able to see it on May 6th, if he isn’t too busy sharing those Pepe memes.