Personal Responsibility Deniers, Moochers, Takers, Self-Proclaimed Victims, Welfare Queens, Government Dependents, Public Teat Suckers, and Gift-Seekers, Unite!

This is a call to action. We have a problem - the fake “Social-Security-Is-Going-Bankrupt!” problem.

Politicians, pundits, and policy wonks falsely claim that Social Security is going-bankrupt-now! and adding-to-the- deficit!, and destroying the Futures-of-Our-Children-and-Our-Children’s-Children! They argue for “reforming” Social Security, by which they mean cutting benefits. Other politicians, et al. dignify this malarkey by treating it as if it merited consideration. Some examples:
  • This exchange, during the 10/11/12 vice presidential candidates’ debate, between moderator and ABC journalist Martha Raddatz, and vice presidential candidate Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI):
Martha Raddatz: Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive, Mr. Ryan?

Representative Ryan: Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts.
  • The Simpson-Bowles Commission’s deficit reduction “plan,” which proposed a combination of cuts that would reduce the average annual Social Security benefit for middle-income workers by up to 35 percent. (Note: There is no official Commission plan because only 11 of the Commission’s 18 members voted to endorse their own work, three short of the 14 needed to send it to Congress.)
Social Security recipients are not cheating future hard-working, tax-paying, by-the-rules-playing citizens, as some people seem to suggest. Rather, cuts proponents are proposing to cheat future benefit recipients by raiding Social Security. People who say otherwise are being poopy-heads, and here is why:
  1. Social Security doesn't contribute one penny to the deficit, and is prohibited from doing so by law.
  2. Social Security benefits 56 million  Americans, and keeps 20 million out of poverty.
  3. Social Security's surplus in 2011 was $2.7 trillion; it can operate at current benefit levels for at least 20 years - without any "reforms.
These are indisputable facts.

If ever there was a time to expand Social Security’s capacity to protect the “average citizen and his family against … poverty-ridden old age,” as FDR said, it is now.  Yet we are told that Social Security is in crisis and needs immediate cuts so that it will “be there for people who need it”   several generations from now, that we must remember The Children, etc.

Translation: If I (a Baby Boomer under 55) insist on receiving the Social Security benefits I have earned and will need to avoid poverty (no cuts), a Terrible Burden could be visited on The Children 40-some years from now.  Motivated by guilt and a sense of urgency, I am supposed to happily forfeit my benefits - right now. (Unless I act now, I might realize something: If reformed Social Security benefits no longer cover my rent and food, it is my children who will feel obligated to pay for these essentials – while also paying for their kids’ child care and saving for college tuition.)   

Remember the 2011 protests that shifted the national policy focus from the deficit to the destitute and near-destitute? It’s time to protest again. We need to call out politicians who continue to insist that during the worst recession in 50 years, they need seniors’ stay-out-of-poverty money to pay down a debt largely due to tax cuts for the rich. We need to call out people who pit our needs against our children's.

Picture this: Throughout December, voters show up at their U.S. senators’ and representatives’ offices, daily, to demand Social Security benefit increases.... Senators and representatives are deluged with emails, letters, and phone calls, all advocating this same position.... At town hall meetings and other public events, they are urged to increase benefits. When they go downtown, they are greeted by demonstrators demanding more benefits. Each time they check the news, there’s another letter to the editor, op-ed, or interview, about increasing Social Security benefit levels.

If they don’t hear us, we turn up the volume. Local senior groups*, Occupy chapters, and others who care about seniors join forces and:
  • Occupy local Social Security offices.
  • Go holiday “caroling,” through local shopping districts and past our electeds’ offices. (“Wet socks dangling over a camp fire….Jack Frost’s gonna claim more toes….Just lost my crash pad, damn that barbed wire! Wish I could find a place to doze…”).
  • Hold bake sales outside of lawmakers’ offices, at hearings on Social Security reform, or  in downtown shopping districts. A big bake sale sign could read something like, “Janesville Senior Center Bake Sale: Helping 56 million seniors live with dignity –  one cookie at a time.” Proceeds would fund senior services or community organizing campaigns to expand Social Security benefits.
  • Stitch and bitch: Senior center members could add a decorative patch to the scarves and hats they knit and sell at holiday bazaars, outdoor Sunday markets, craft fairs and bake sales, as well as online.  On each patch - a circle with a slash through it, superimposed on a drawing of a grandma under a bus.
There are many ways to express your opinions. Choose what works for your community. But do it now.

*Yes, today’s seniors might be spared at least some of the cuts, but they are worried about their children, who won’t be spared.

By the way, the picture above is of a grandma, thrown under the bus.


Improve Your Advocacy Aptitude Before Legislative Session 2013

What does your advocacy/organizing plan for the 2013 (state) legislative session look like? Something like this?
  • Hire lobbyist. (no money in the budget this year)
  • Organize annual lobby day. (no money in the budget this year)
  • Deal with it after the holidays. Maybe Santa will deliver a gift certificate redeemable for a great 2013 legislative session.

But what if Santa’s budget has been “reformed” and “tweaked” until there’s nothing left, and Santa and the elves have been selling their plasma in order to bring any gifts at all to good little girls and boys?

Your organization can be a powerful advocate without spending a lot of money in the process. The same communications tools commonly used by nonprofits of all sizes are often all you need – tools like visits to legislators and their assistants, calls, letters, emails, town hall meetings, letters to the editor, etc.

But you may want to change how your group uses these tools to increase your efficacy. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

First things first: Do you have an advocacy agenda? In writing? One that key volunteers and staff endorse? And can easily explain? (True story: An advocacy group, after much prodding, was able to get a meeting with a U.S. senator to discuss their policy priorities. At the hour-long meeting, they distributed an agenda with 45 policy action items. You can probably guess how many items they were able to discuss after the Senator personally greeted and shook hands with each of the 50+ meeting attendees.)

Make sure you identify your organization in all interactions with lawmakers (and staffs) and on all informational materials. How else will your legislators know to hold a place for your group at the proverbial “table” when considering legislation affecting your community?

Put your communication tools to use early in the session and often. Marketing professionals say that a message often must be heard six or seven times before it starts to sink in.  

Generally speaking, if one constituent phone call to your state representative or senator is good, five are better, and so on. The challenge for many organizations is finding the time to find the numbers of people to send the letters and emails. If your group is strapped for time, try incorporating your advocacy work into activities that you, your staff, volunteers, supporters, and potential supporters will be doing anyway.

Here’s an example. Say that you are a member of a homeless shelter’s board of directors. Each member has pledged to collect 50 mini-letters (two or three sentences per letter) supporting a bill to increase funding for services for the homeless.

You could ask the person who leads weekly services at your place of worship to help: When (and if) the collection plate is passed, s/he could ask worshipers to pen a short note to their elected while they’re waiting for the plate to make the rounds. (Sample letter and paper could be placed on worshipers’ seats before the service.)

You could ask the chair of your book club for five minutes on the next meeting’s agenda. At that meeting, you could ask club members to take a minute to write one or two sentences supporting the proposed bill. (This suggestion is adaptable to a variety of different meetings.)

Here's another example. Say you want to get 50 petition signatures. You could get them quickly (relatively speaking) from:
  • A line of people outside a sports arena, waiting for the doors to open
  • People milling around during half-times
  • A line of people waiting to see a movie, plays, dance performances, etc.
  • People milling around during intermissions
  • People in line waiting for Black Friday sales to begin
  • People taking the bus to/from work
  • Parents at parent-teacher conferences, waiting for their next conference.

Petition signatures can be even easier to collect if you do so at an event you were going to attend anyway (i.e. you take petitions to the play-off games that you were going to see anyway).

That’s all for now! I will post more tips in the coming weeks. 


Recession-Era Fundraisers for Cash-Strapped Organizations

You know how different types of fundraisers occur more frequently during certain times of the year? It seems that November and December are bake sale months. Bake sales can be a good source of quick cash for some organizations. Putting them on doesn't require much investment of time or money (relative to the alternatives). Here are some tips to make the most of your group's bake sales:

If you have the goods (or the bakers) but lack a place to set up shop, ask yourself, Where can I find a lot of people in one place at the same time, who would love to buy a nice snack or could be tempted to buy one, and who lack access to snacks? The answers might suggest bake sale options such as these: 
  • Bus Stop Bake Sale: Where are the busiest bus stops during rush hour? This could be a good place to sell your scones, coffee cake, and other breakfast items.
  • Black Friday Bake Sale: Hundreds and hundreds of shoppers, waiting  in line for hours, and many of them hungry…just waiting for someone to show up with freshly-baked scones, coffee cake, and other treats. 
  • Baked Goods for Bar-Hoppers: In my neighborhood, there are a lot of bars and clubs. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, there are a lot of people, lined up, waiting to get into these bars and clubs, some of them with a hankering for a snack. (These folks might prefer savory items to sweet.)
  • Baked Goods for Block Buster Movie Buffs Lined Up For Blocks: See Black Friday Sale.
For these options, you may have to make your sale an ambulatory one. Instead of putting the goods out on a table, put the goods on your person, and "work" the lines of people who are hungry, bored, or unable to resist home-baked goodies. Specifically, put on an apron with deep pockets and fill them with your (wrapped) cookies, brownies, etc. Have a sale partner, who works the line with you, taking money, making change, bagging purchases. Or use a rolling cart or wagon to display your goods.

You can apply the ambulatory bake sale concept to other situations, like these:
  • Sports events
  • Parent-teacher conference nights
  • Intermissions of holiday sing-alongs, recitals, and other shows
  • Polling places Florida, Ohio, and other states where people stood in line for hours
  • Gas stations in New Jersey, New York, and other places that Sandy visited.

How to make your sale easier:
  • Ask your friends, family members, the bakers on your board of directors, and your organization’s volunteers and supporters if they plan to bake for the holidays, and if so, to donate some of their creations to your sale.

How to make your sale more profitable:
  • Make a “donate-your-spare-change” jar prominent and available.   
  • Consider what else you can sell at your sale, i.e. decorative bags (baked goods in a cute bag = instant gift), other small items.        
  • Make available a sign-up sheet on which customers (and perhaps future donors) can share their names and contact information. Give them a good reason to sign up, i.e. discounts on your theater’s next show, a free copy of your group’s report on where to buy locally-produced/organic/fair-trade food, etc.      
  • Sell raffle tickets. (Have a raffle.)
  • Dress up as a snowman or Santa Claus, and pose for pictures with customers in exchange for a donation.
  • To attract post-event donations and potential volunteers, send out a press release and photo – the more interesting your story/photo, the more likely it will be used.
  • Check local public land use, health code, and gaming (for raffles) regulations relevant to your sale.
Key Principles:
  • Incorporate into your bake sale as many additional opportunities for customers to spend money as you can.
  • There aren’t (m)any one-size-fits-all-organizations fundraisers. It’s up to you to consider if an ambulatory bake sale would work for your group. Would your board/volunteers be willing to hawk cookies, etc. to lines of people? Can you find folks to bake and donate treats for you to sell? Are there places in your community that attract lots of people, waiting to get in/their turn, etc.? Would these people buy what you are selling? How does a bake sale fit with your organization’s mission? (Diabetes prevention groups  - this fundraiser isn’t for you.) Are you selling baked goods that people will want to eat, or those industrial-sized muffins-in-plastic-wrap that you can find at the gas station, by the cashier?
  • Take names and … contact info and enter them into your database! Then put your newly acquired data to use!


Blue Blues

They said,  "Have you seen the news?"
Get out every vote or we lose!
The base said, "Oh horrors!
We'll go knocking on doors
Once we find our comfortable shoes..."