Contacting Congress

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.

Adele-Hello (UtahValley360)
Me after every phone call to Congress

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.)

Drake (Giphy.com)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 Call me Maybe (Voucher Cloud)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.)

Gaga (giphy.com)

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.

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BlackFem, Inc.: Building Opportunities for Women of Color

BlackFem,Inc
Young girls participating in the BlackFem, Inc. program (BlackFem.org)

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!

Twitter: @Black_Fem

Website: http://www.blackfem.org

It’s a #CrookedWorld, and We’re All Just Living In it

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.

Pod Save America Outside Trump Tower
The Pod Save America gang outside Trump Tower (Pod Save America Twitter)
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’.

Pod Save America Logo
We are all George Washington (Pod Save America Twitter)
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, With Friends 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.

5Calls: Making political engagement accessible

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Automation, global warming, healthcare, globalization, and septuagenarian presidents are all issues with roots reaching further back than the 21st century, yet they are some of the most pressing problems that millennials will have to solve. Donating to charities, subscribing to publications, and attending town halls are a few great avenues to channel your political enthusiasm, but one of the most effective tools at your disposal is also one that is increasingly neglected by millennials: making actual phone calls.

You probably didn’t need a poll to tell you what you’ve long known, but millennials prefer texts over calls by a wide margin. We also know that calling your representative carries a greater weight than emailing them. How do we square the circle?

Nick O’Neill may have created the solution in his site 5calls.org. Founded by O’Neill and his wife Rebecca Kaufman, and supported by a team of volunteers, 5 Calls is a simple online tool designed to maximize your cellular effectiveness.

“No one likes to make phone calls,” Mr. O’Neill says. “What we realized was that we could combat that by giving the right context for what steps you should take on the phone call and what was going to happen on that call.”

Consider the amount of time it would take you to research an issue, find the correct department to contact, find your representatives, and call with a succinct statement that politely gets your message across. It may not take more than a few minutes for the savvy Googler, but consider the range of issues you are passionate about, and the time will begin to accumulate.

5 Calls’ intuitive interface gets you to the correct representatives in seconds. “We put hyper-relevant issues, paired with 1-minute scripts that were clear and concise,” explains Mr. O’Neill. “Along with automatic representative lookups, there’s really nothing left to chance.”

For a generation as averse to phone calls as ours, an app that streamlines the process is the perfect bridge between millennials and their political representatives accustomed to traditional methods. Since its debut three months ago, 5 Calls has tallied over 1,100,000 phone calls. The sheer volume of calls can make the difference between the death or survival of Obama-era legislation like the ACA.

“Call numbers are tallied daily and reported to representatives,” says O’Neill, “giving them a pulse for their constituents that’s faster and more effective than any other method.”

If football is a game of inches, then politicking is a game of phone calls.

Hakook: Making Big Change by Getting Close.

 

14352036_661751203980408_5583508454145450086_oThe people who make up New York City are of all walks of life. Apartment buildings are filled with artists, students, lawyers, doctors, construction workers, the list goes on. Every day individuals of different social classes, professions, and attitudes head to work typically passing by at least one individual who doesn’t have a home.

I am one of the working class folk. I go to work, come home, and on my typical day pass by at least six homeless people. I work in midtown Manhattan, so I cover a lot of area and often see the same individuals on a subway staircase or designated street corner. I may be one step ahead of the average citizen in that I notice their existence, but I’m unfortunately someone who doesn’t do much more than that. I have empathy and I keep walking.

Six NYU students couldn’t just keep walking. Isaac Marshall along with Josh Dean, Mimi Doan, Paula Ho, Ian Beckman Reagan, and Ian Beckman Reagan turned helplessness into action and formed Hakook.

Hakook’s mission is to deliver crucial resources to New Yorkers forced to live on the streets. Rather than blind charity work, Hakook connects with individuals to try and find out what resources they truly need. They surveyed over 100 street homeless and got the specifics. Among the list of essentials were socks, tampons and pads, winter coats, and Mylar blankets. They’ve built partnerships as well as received donations in order to deliver on all of these needs. Four times a week, teams make deliveries to people directly on the streets.

By delivering requested items in person, Hakook team members are able to develop trusted relationships as well as learn more about the conditions of the shelters in NYC. Shelters have huge wait lists and often leave individuals and their families with no other choice.

Hakook would like to one day hire a formerly or currently homeless person to lead volunteer teams and distribution efforts. They also aim to co-author policy recommendations with people who live on the street and also share their stories to highlight the issue.  In order to be able to do so as well as make these potentially life saving deliveries possible, they need your help!

$5 is the magic price. You can choose to do a monthly donation, weekly, or daily. You’ll get updates on how your donations are helping empower the less fortunate. Visit their website, like them on Facebook, and connect with them to spread their mission and service to your hometown.

The Opposition: Your Home For All Things Anti-Trump

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With so much of the current media landscape dominated by link sharing via social media, no one can rely on any one traditional media outlet for information on an issue as broad as the multi-faceted Trump Resistance. Consider the multiple threads of Trump’s threat to democracy: his ties to Russia, his multiple military actions in the Middle East, postured aggression with North Korea, and dismantling of civil rights protections for minorities. We each only have so many hours in our day to keep up with the current state of the Union, and while we can try to curate our own perfect social media feeds through strategic follows, there’s always the risk that we’re missing one particular perspective or story that deserves to be heard.

Enter, The Opposition.

Currently a Facebook and Twitter-based content distribution platform, the Opposition brands itself as the liberal answer to the Drudge Report, a right wing news aggregate known for peddling poorly sourced conspiracy theories. The Opposition is different in that it maintains an understanding of the facts while spreading information that its base needs to know, acting as a megaphone for the public interest in addition to keeping track of the many scandals and missteps of the Trump Administration.

Using social media platforms instead of an actual website like the Drudge Report, the Opposition sees itself as the social media home for everyone who opposes Donald Trump. With dedicated staffers, they will be able to post, retweet, and share content with followers seeking to keep up with Trump’s latest threats to democracy as well as current social equity movements.

During a presidency such as Donald Trump’s, most people simply don’t have the bandwidth to keep up with the pace of lies, scandal, and fear mongering peddled by the government. Organizations like the Opposition will help expose the myths, debunk his lies, and counter his dangerous narrative, a one stop for all things anti-Trump and pro-progress.

Join The Opposition!

Twitter: @Oppstn

FB: @Oppstn


Website: http://www.oppstn.com

Run for Something – Politics’ New Paradigm?

rfs.net

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve thought about running for office.

C’mon – safe space here at MP – we have too! The stirring oratory, the yard signs trumpeting your name, the hubbub of campaign excitement all around as you blaze a path towards legislating glory. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, daydreamer, go ahead and cut that West Wing re-binge short. We think there’s someone you should meet…

Run for Something (RFS), the joint concoction of Amanda Litman and Ross Rocketto, is a wild idea.  A bananas, “you’re gonna do what?”, shoot-for-the-moon kind of idea. An idea so novel that it will draw plenty of skeptics and enthusiasts alike (count MP in the latter.) And it is precisely RFS’s eyebrow-raising ingenuity that gives it the potential to be a genuine game-changer.

Amanda, who served as the Clinton campaign’s email director (raising a dizzying $330 million in the process), was “tired, angry, and sad” after the election. While wallowing in self-pity (like the rest of us) would have been an understandable response, Amanda and her co-founder, Ross, a seasoned political operative and a principal at the Smoot Tewes Group, got down to work. They teamed up to tackle what RFS’ strategic plan calls a “systemic problem” plaguing the progressive movement: the unwieldy and unattractive process of running for office. “Friends would ask how to get involved in politics, and I wouldn’t have a good answer,” says Amanda, “the entry point for politics is so high.” High indeed. Consider, for example, a few of the questions one must ask themselves prior to running:

  • How do I get on the ballot?
  • Who do I talk to about running a campaign?
  • Can I keep my day job and run for office?
  • Who else is running? What does that mean for my campaign?
  • What’s my message to the electorate? My policy positions?
  • I know there’s a local political committee, but what exactly are they good for?
  • How much cash do I need to do this? Where do I get it and what am I spending it on?

Considering the above – which is just a small sampling – it’s not too surprising that many potential rockstars decide to let someone else run the political gauntlet. In their strategic plan, RFS points to Virginia’s 2016 elections as an example of the consequence that this byzantine process is having across the country:

“….In the last election, 71 of those 100 districts [in Virginia] were uncontested. Part of that is because the districts have been dramatically gerrymandered, but that is not an excuse. In Virginia, Hillary Clinton won in 17 state house districts currently held by Republicans and 51 districts across the state.”

Those are some harrowing numbers. What could one organization hope to do about something this ingrained, messy and “systemic”? Well, a lot actually. Here’s how:

Run for Something plans on recruiting and assisting people under 35 run for state and local office. From prothonotary (yup, that’s a thing) to the mayor’s office or the statehouse, RFS plans on helping candidates side-step political trap doors, hurdle mountains of paperwork, and bust through mazes of decision-making by helping them every step of the way. From assisting with the development of campaign strategy to fundraising to hiring professional operatives (no, your best friend can’t be your campaign manager), RFS is there to lend a hand. Everyone who signs up to run for office will start by having a one-on-one call with RFS to discuss what their candidacy may look like.

So, now you know what I mean when I said this is a bananas idea. RFS, in essence, wants to democratize…democracy, allowing anyone – so long as they align with RFS’ principles (more on that in a sec) – to take a run at elected office. This idea could change, literally, the face of politics. From the RFS website:

“Under-35-year-olds make up nearly a quarter of the American population, but only 5% of state legislatures…[we] don’t have young people ready to move up in politics and we don’t have a bench that looks like the people we aim to represent.”

Not only is RFS looking to add young blood to the political process; they want at least half of their candidates to be women and men of color. And enough lawyers already! RFS is looking for “a diversity of experience” amongst its candidates.

We at MP couldn’t agree more. Imagine the potential change in tone and substance of our political discourse if more biologists, middle school teachers, and small business owners were running for office. As for political leanings, this probably isn’t going to come as a surprise: to work with RFS, you gotta be progressive, and you gotta run as a Democrat. Full stop. That said, RFS recognizes that it means something quite different to be a Democrat in Mississippi compared to Massachusetts. Finally, (in case you’re taking notes) RFS is looking for people with deep roots; people who are a part of, and invested in, their communities. “You know it when you see it,” says Amanda, adding that one of her go-to questions for a potential RFS candidate is “if you were holding a launch party in four days, would you be able to fill the room?”

As if all this wasn’t enough, there’s another key pillar of the RFS mission: cultivating the next generation of progressive political staffers. RFS believes that “just as it is important to have a bench of young elected officials, it’s important to have a bench of young political operatives.” While young field, communications, and finance staffers abound, there’s a real shortage of those who’ve taken the leap to become campaign managers. RFS wants to get some of these young guns in managing roles by connecting them with senior political operatives willing to act as mentors during the campaign.

Phew….let’s step back to take a breather for a moment….

With all the novelty surrounding the RFS approach, we here at MP couldn’t help but wonder about two burning questions:

  1. Is there interest? Are people getting involved?
  2. RFS is the new kid on the block. How will more established players like EMILY’s List or party organizations like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee react to RFS?

As to the latter – according to Amanda – it’s pretty straightforward: “treat us like a frenemy.” While game to be a team player, RFS isn’t about to roll over and compromise on their values. How about other groups outside the party apparatus that have overlap with RFS in terms of candidate recruitment, training, and the like? “We’re not trying to replace those entities. Instead, we want to help feed people into those places, and we want to take the best of the best candidates that come out of those trainings and give them an extra hand in the mechanics of running for office.”

Okay, that’s all well and good, but how about question number 1? How many people – particularly in a national political climate that makes Turkmenistan look rosy – are willing to devote untold quantities of time, energy, and money to maybe, just possibly, getting elected? 50 you say? 100 perhaps? Try 8,000. Yep, Run for Something has had 8,000 people talking to them about running for elected office. They’ve also raised over $100,000 from 3,000+ people. To account for this rather unexpected level of enthusiasm (RFS’ strategic plan mentions them hoping 100 people would show interest), RFS has had 2,000 volunteers sign up to speak with prospective candidates about their interest in running. Already 250+ hours are on the books. And it’s not all political neophytes either. RFS is bringing in the cavalry with over 115 experienced political operatives signed on- including folks from the Clinton and Sanders campaigns – to mentor both the candidates and those potential newbie campaign managers.

So, yeah, a small army of about 10,000 people has materialized out of the ether to run for office or support those who do. Something big is happening. Something that could change politics-as-usual. If you wanna get in on the action, head over to  https://www.runforsomething.net/. Who knows, we may all be calling you POTUS someday.