We wouldn’t vote for an alien from outer space for president. Why would we vote for Mitt Romney?

Re: this quote from Mitt Romney:

“We always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”

When I was in high school and college, it was the other way around: My parents were borrowing money from me. For groceries. Like millions of other parents throughout the U.S.

If this guy wins, it will be like having Mork* for president, minus the charm.

I don’t see how Romney can effectively serve the interests of anyone who is among the 99.99999 percent of us who don’t have elevators just for our cars. He seems to have no idea at all what it means to be middle-class, poor, or unemployed; otherwise, he would not have made borrow-from-your-parents and other asinine remarks such as these:

  • “ I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.
  • “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet.” (Romney said this to Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry during a candidates’ debate.)
  • “You know I wish I could tell you that there is a place to find really cheap money or free money and we could pay for everyone’s education – that’s just not going to happen.”
  • “I want the individuals [who are, in Romney’s words, ‘on a form of welfare assistance’] to have the dignity of work.”
  • “Well, if they’re 45 years old and they show up they say ‘I want insurance because I’ve got a heart disease,’ it’s like hey guys, we can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you are well, and then if you get ill then you’re going to be covered.”

A couple of things I’d like to say to Mr. Romney:

  • If??!!! If the safety net needs repair?! You’ve been touring the country, talking to “the people,” and you haven’t figured out that the so-called safety net has been shredded beyond recognition?
  • As for a place to find really cheap or free money to pay for everyone’s education.…I know of such a place. It’s called the Fed.
  • Very noble of you to worry about the dignity of poor people receiving public assistance. Now how about worrying if they have food. Or health care.
  • You’re 45 years old. You make crap working at the big-box store and you have a family of four to feed, clothe, and house. Healthy or not, it’s like hey guy, you can’t afford insurance no matter how proactive you are…By the way, baseball is a game. Trying to find affordable health care is not.  
  • So you’re gonna fix the safety net, are you? Just like that? I’ll bet you 10,000 bucks you don’t.

*Mork, the character on the ‘80s sitcom Mork and Mindy, is an alien from outer space who takes up residence on Planet Earth (Boulder, CO) and tries to pass as a regular (earthling) guy.

Post Script

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure - How to Take Action:

We wouldn’t vote for an alien from outer space for president. Why would we vote for Mitt Romney?  Here are easy ways to help voters realize that Mitt is no more qualified to be president than your average space alien:
  • Add one of Mitt’s more revealing quotes to the signature line(s) of your email.
  • Add a link to media coverage of one of Mitt’s gaffes to your signature line(s).
  • Email a weekly list of Miiticisms to your friends, family, etc.
  • Post Mitticisms to your facebook page.
  • Post Mitticisms to your website.
  • Call a radio talk-show to discuss Mitt’s latest gaffes.


Advocacy in Hard Times: Lessons Learned From the Occupy Movement

This post first appeared in Crosscut (April 6, 2012). It addresses the vulnerability of Washington State's social safety net during Washington's 2012 Legislative Session; though the session has ended, the challenges facing the safety net are still pressing.

These are telling snippets of conversations I have had with human service providers about the recession, the shredding social safety net, and local help for people in need:

“For the most youth, the streets are the safest choice … and I think that’s a pretty reasonable choice given the circumstances.”

“For many of our seniors, we’re giving them their only hot meal of the day.”

“We see a lot more people living out of their cars.”

“We check the jail registry, the morgue … no news is good news.”

I heard these comments because, in trying to think about how government and society should respond to hard times, I wanted to know how much the recession had affected the capabilities and the need for services of organizations that help people get what they need to live (i.e. food, shelter) and live well (organic food, green space). Were they able to keep up with demand for services? If not, were they demanding help? Had Occupy Wall Street inspired them to organize? I met with directors of six local human service agencies to find out. 

It’s not pretty out there. Executive Director Kristine Cunningham of ROOTS, which provides shelter for young adults, said more college students need shelter, more people are sleeping in their cars, and more people are newly homeless. Rare is the night that ROOTS doesn't turn away people seeking a place to sleep.
Teen Feed, which provides teens with meals and case management, is not seeing more youth, according to Executive Director Megan Hibbard. But the teens it serves now have a harder time finding jobs and housing. Hibbard says, “They are more depressed and more inclined to use drugs. … Our working is changing … now we’re helping kids hang on.” Kathleen Crompton, who runs the Wallingford Senior Center said that her agency’s services have shifted in focus — less attention to bridge games, and more attention to hot meals and job programs.

For the past few years, our elected leaders have been saying we must “sacrifice,” “tighten our belts,” “take a haircut,” and “do our part.” It's Beaver Cleaver-speak for imposing draconian cuts to services for people who have already sacrificed.

When releasing her 2011-2013 budget, which called for eliminating Basic Health and Disability Lifeline, Gov. Chris Gregoire said, “For the functions that government no longer will be able to provide, we must turn to neighbors, private charities, faith-based organizations and other local programs. Our communities, more than ever, will be asked to step up.”

How? The nonprofit directors I met said that finding the resources they need to meet the demand for services has always been a struggle, recession or not.  For many nonprofits it’s getting harder: Government has radically cut or eliminated funding to the very organizations that poor people turn to when they cannot get unemployment insurance, subsidized health insurance, food stamps, or other governmental aid. Individual donors have less to donate; foundations give fewer grants; communities have fewer foundations. The state Senate’s adoption of a draconian budget proposal  adds to this mix the prospect of more cuts before the Legislature’s special session ends. To whom or to what do charities turn to protect current funding levels (never mind the “extra” funding needed to “step up”)?

Occupiers? Perhaps, they could turn to the Occupy movement. The grassroots activists' community organizing has re-focused our national analysis of the economy (from reducing the deficit to reducing the income gap); inspired people across the U.S. to engage in activism, and pressured banks and corporations to change how they do business.

What if, in 2012, safety net providers take a cue from OWS and utilize protests to demand that the 1 percent “do their part” for the public good? That would be a big departure from what most service providers currently do. Media coverage of protests in Olympia over the past year suggests that they were for the most part, the work of unions, Occupy groups, and some nonprofit advocacy organizations. This is consistent with my 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Few direct service providers engage in ongoing advocacy; almost none engage in organizing.

I asked the executive directors if their organizations engaged in social change activity, like advocacy or organizing. Some of what I heard:
  • “We don’t engage in advocacy. We look for common ground. We focus on service.”
  • “It’s not a fit.”
  • “If I have to choose between an advocacy activity and opening the center because my one staff person is out with a sick child, it’s a no-brainer. I am going to open the agency.”
Of the six direct service organizations, three do not engage in any advocacy or organizing. Two participate in a lobby day or two per year, and occasional meetings with electeds. One, Seattle Tilth (which helps people grow organic food, conserve natural resources and support local food systems), just established a board advocacy committee, charged with developing a proactive approach with which to influence public policy.

John Fox, executive director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition (SDC), which organizes grassroots campaigns for more  affordable housing, is not surprised. He says that not only are nonprofit housing developers and managers reluctant to participate in SDC’s organizing, some actively oppose it (perhaps believing the perfect to be the enemy of the better-than-nothing).

There are understandable reasons for service providers’ reluctance to more actively engage in advocacy, organizing, and lobbying. One, they lack the capacity. Capacity takes money, and funding for organizing and advocacy can be among the hardest to come by. Two, organizing and advocacy may alienate staff of agencies whose support they need  (i.e., organizing to pressure a governmental agency to restore funding). Three, few people in direct service agencies have staff with relevant training or experience in advocating or organizing for policy change.

According to Fox, at one time in Seattle there was more overlap between activism and direct services, but that dynamic is changing. He says, “The activists are retiring. Their jobs are being filled by  professional managers,” people coming out of  graduate school management programs, but without organizing experience.

My own experience as a consultant to non-profit organizations suggests that, lobbyists, advocates, or policy specialists don’t necessarily know what community organizers do, and vice versa. No wonder human service providers explain their reluctance to join protests with these dubious claims:
  • We can’t get involved in policy work or we’ll lose our nonprofit status.
  • Organizing is okay for kids. We’re too old/professional/polite/sophisticated for that.
  • We don’t want to wreck our good relationship with [fill in the blank], who always takes our calls.
  • If we go to Lobby Day and a couple City Council meetings each year, that’s good enough.
  • We did a protest and it didn’t work.
  • Organizing is adversarial, and that’s not who we are.
  • Organizing/advocacy is too time-consuming.
Inaccurate information about grassroots organizing can impede efforts to defend the safety net. Take the second claim — that organizing is for kids, hippies, attention-seekers, boors, and the like. An organizing action that is not a part of a longer-term strategy, without a clear message backed by evidence, can look like a pointless spectacle. But a spectacle that is well-executed, makes the target’s position look ridiculous, and is part of a strategy of coordinated actions can be very effective in advancing an organization’s policy agenda. And for groups that cannot otherwise get a meeting with the local paper’s editorial board or a meeting with their senator, in-your-face protesting may be the only way to go.

So where does this leave the social safety net? If we want to more effectively defend the safety net, we need to mount advocacy and organizing campaigns that are:
  1. bolder,
  2. based on accurate information about social change methods;
  3. supported with funding based on realistic assessments of needs and costs;
  4. and supported by more people willing to call their electeds, participate in a protest, and  invite their friends and neighbors to join their activist efforts.
Social service providers cannot be expected to do this advocacy and organizing work alone. They need and deserve the involvement of the communities they serve, particularly in this era of austerity.

In March, state Sen. Ed Murray, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, called for Washingtonians to contact their legislators about state programs that they want to preserve. Although budget differences could force another legislative session, this is the last full week of the 2012 special session, so time is of the essence.

How to Occupy on the Fly:
  • The next time your Stitch & Bitch/book/meet-up group gathers, suggest that everyone take two minutes to call the Legislative Hotline to advocate for their pet cause(s);
  • If you are a member of a faith-based organization, ask the social action committee or the youth group to coordinate a phone call campaign among the membership; or
  • If you are a student, work with your student government organization to set up an information table and call center at the student union; write a letter to the editor for the school paper.
The possibilities are endless.


Margaret Mead Was Right

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."     Margaret Mead   

1994: It started with three women: Fern, Janice, and Susan. Fern was determined that her granddaughter would never be exposed to the kind of abuse she had endured at the hands of her ex-husband. Janice first shared the gory details of her abuse during a live radio interview, leaving the interviewer and other guests speechless and causing dead air time. Susan had been involved in anti-domestic violence work for years, motivated by her own experiences with abuse.

Before it was all over, the campaign that these three women helped to launch accomplished these things:
  • Successfully pressured the 8th District Police to collect data about its response to 911 domestic violence (DV) calls and allow the public access to the data;
  • Successfully pressured the 8th District Police to agree to participate in roll call trainings on how to assist victims of domestic violence;        
  • Ignited a citywide public dialogue about the Chicago Police Department’s handling of 911 DV calls; and 
  • Created a coalition of social workers, police officers, attorneys, and others to coordinate the responses of local social service agencies, police departments, courts, hospitals, schools, and faith-based organizations to domestic violence.

There were other, unexpected, results:
  • One of the three women was selected and sponsored by the Chicago Foundation for Women to represent local activists at the 4th International Women’s Conference in Beiing, China. 
  • One of the campaign participants observed that although she’d had individual counseling and gone to support groups, her involvement in the campaign brought her a new level of healing from her abuse;
  • In Chicago, the most segregated city in America, a group of women in a white community joined forces with a group of African-American women also working for improved police response to DV, an Arab-American women’s organization, a social service organization serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community, and a group of 20-something activists – to address the issue of inadequate police response to domestic violence.

What kind of campaign did the women launch?

A grassroots, direct-action community organizing campaign.

Maybe you are wondering:
  • “What do you mean, ‘grassroots’?”
  • “What do you mean, ‘direct-action’?”
  • “What exactly is community organizing anyway?”

For answers to these and other questions, check back here. Future posts will describe how a few determined women mounted a campaign that held local police accountable for their response to domestic violence calls.


The Let-Them-Eat-Cake Budget

What is with all of the sturm and drang over Paul Ryan’s budget? It offers serious proposals that deserve serious consideration. For example: 
  • Infrastructure: Yes, I know some people are worried about our “crumbling” infrastructure. These people will cite a list of specific roads and bridges, etc. that need immediate repair. But Ryan is right to suggest that the federal government need not spend money on repairs. It can simply maintain a website that lists roads and bridges to avoid, along with a statement that by using said roads and bridges, travelers waive all rights to hold government entities accountable for any bodily harm incurred during usage.
  • EPA: So what if it’s gutted? So what if oil refineries pollute the air? I have two words for you: Face masks. You’re worried about water? While I have not verified this, I just bet those face masks would make fine water filters.
  • Health Care: You want a health care program? Okay. I have a program many times cheaper than the current health care plan. I call mine the “An Apple A Day …” Plan. My plan calls for government bureaucrats whose jobs have been eliminated to be rehired (sans benefits and unions); they hand out apples to card-carrying, hard-working, tax-paying U.S. citizens. One per person per day. Unless you’re a job creator.
  • Medicare: No, you won’t continue to have access to the level of care you would otherwise enjoy. Instead, you will get a voucher with which to purchase up to $8000 of insurance. No, there is no reason to expect that any private insurer would offer you a policy. And no, the $8000 probably would not cover even the premiums, let alone your corn pads. But maybe the powers-that-be could be persuaded to substitute an $8000 travel voucher for the insurance voucher - then you could buy a plane ticket to a country* where you can get health care.** Bon Voyage! 

*You weren’t thinking of driving or boarding a train, were you?
**It would also buy approximately 22 bottles of the $350-per-bottle of wine that Paul Ryan was recently caught sipping.