The Nature of Change

I talk about progressive change a lot, yet that idea does not fully capture my ideas about how change occurs.

I like the word progressive because it indicates forward movement. It is also nonpartisan, or at least it can be understood in that way. Yet, progress is linear, logical, and rational. There is a beginning and an end. Yet, change does not always occur in this way. In fact, change is an ongoing, continual process. Every breath is a potential transformation.

When I was an undergrad, my theology professor shared two views of history with us. According to him, a line with a set starting point represented the Western view while a circle represented the Eastern view. Not being satisfied with either, I developed a third idea – a spiral with no beginning and no ending, with cycles that build upon what has occurred in the past.

Social change happens in all three ways, reflecting the multiple understandings that humans have about the nature of history. Social change also occurs in quantum space when openings are created through chaos.

So how does one become an advocate for quantum change, rather than progressive change, without being physically or psychologically violent?

I think this can be achieved by detaching, opening up to possibility, and flowing.

So how does one effectively do this in a politically tenuous environment?

By focusing on our intention, trusting, and being love.

Releasing our unrealistic desire to control everything in the universe leads to an increased sense of self-control.

I think that the concepts of progressive change and quantum change are complementary, perhaps even paradoxical. Activists can simultaneously employ different means toward the same ends either inter- or intra-personally. The important thing is to be aware of what we are doing, our purpose, and to do something to express our deepest values in the social sphere.

20 Questions: Advocacy

  1. What social condition(s) are we trying to shift?
  2. What change will positively influence this social condition?
  3. What is the specific ask?
  4. Are there any acceptable alternatives to this ideal solution?
  5. What will be the result of making such a change for the community overall and in the lives of individual people?
  6. What are the financial, environmental, and human costs and benefits of making such a change?
  7. What stories illustrate the need for this change?
  8. What data support the need for this change?
  9. What visuals can be used to communicate the need for this change?
  10. What structural obstacles are preventing this change from taking place?
  11. What personal or organizational resistance exists toward this change?
  12. What are the values and priorities of the decision makers that we need to influence?
  13. What other individuals and groups are working on this issue?
  14. Who else cares about this issue and why is it important to them?
  15. How will we engage others in our advocacy efforts?
  16. What key messages do we need to share?
  17. Who needs to hear our key messages?
  18. How will we communicate our key messages?
  19. How will we prepare others to be effective advocates for our cause?
  20. How will we strategically time our advocacy campaign?

Cookie Cutter Correspondence

“When a person takes time to write you a letter, you’ve got to pay attention to that person.” — My grandfather in The Morning Call, January 26th, 1985

I care deeply about many issues, and I have the email log to prove it. I think Harrisburg and Washington have had to upgrade their email servers just to handle my correspondence. In fact, my state representative’s chief of staff, who sadly passed away almost two years ago, once offered to make me a certificate for being the constituent who sends the most frequent email communication. In retrospect, I wish I had not succumbed to false modesty so that I could have something from him. I would have loved to have it, but could not publicly acknowledge my vanity. I have since learned that it is selfish to not accept gifts offered by others, and I truly regret if I hurt him in any way.

More recently, I was at a workshop about lobbying at which a state senator, not from my district, audaciously told us to not even bother sending email form letters to his office because they don’t read them. They don’t count.

When I receive a call to action by email, I often use the online systems created to generate email correspondence to legislators as this is an efficiency that saves me time. While it may be able to send my emails with ease, my intentions for doing so are anything but casual.

I thought deeply about what this senator said, and possible ways that I could change my behavior to be a more effective advocate. I considered limiting my areas of interest and focusing on just a few critical issues. But then I realized that doing so would result in poor citizenship, as a legislator doing so would result in poor public service. I considered going to the legislators’ website and submitting my letters directly there, and I sometimes do this. I now pay more attention to the content of the suggested language provided by organizers to make sure it is aligned with my values and intentions. I don’t demand, I educate.

While I am grateful that he provoked this line of thought within me, I still kind of think he was too brazen about it. Elected officials should welcome correspondence from constituents, in whatever form they are able to produce. Many people do not have the ability to write effective letters or the time to do so because they are raising families and working multiple jobs. They still need to have the opportunity to genuinely and clearly express their opinion. How dare someone being paid by taxpayer dollars denounce the good intentions and engaged citizenship of those whom she or he was elected to serve.

I also spoke to a friend who works for one of my U.S. senators. She told me that many senators use a computerized system to categorize letters and tabulate the wishes of constituents. Perhaps state legislators do not have the resources or capacity to organize correspondence in this way.

Yet, I am reminded of the sincere kindness and dedicated service of my friend Leon. I wish all other offices had the same respect for constituents that he did. I am grateful to have known him, and will remember his example as a model of public service and leadership.

(Not) Dressed to Impressed

I served our local League of Women Voters as the Voters Guide editor for two years. It was a volunteer position for which I was ill suited, but I did my best.

My volunteer service in this capacity had a tumultuous ending. With a bundle of at least 100 Voters Guides in my arms, I could not see the stairs below (not to mention I was probably a bit high on a newly prescribed cocktail of Elavil + Lamictal + Lexapro + Neurontin) . Down I went, and a nine month recovery followed.

Toward the end of my recovery, I was able to drive and walk with a brace on my leg. In order to accommodate the brace, I wore long skirts or stretchy pants with sneakers. This also helped to accommodate the forty fresh pounds on my frame which resulted from a deadly combination of daily ice cream and the inability to walk.

This did not stop me from participating in a lobbying day at our state capital.  When I arrived at the PA Bar Association office for the pre-meeting meeting, I saw the convener stop mid-sentence as I walked into the room and look me up and down as if to say, ‘didn’t you read my email which specifically stated that you should be professionally dressed.’ I felt humiliated. Of course, it may have just been a projection of my insecurity.

There were many times during my recovery that I felt as though my appearance was scrutinized. Especially during those months that I was not able to walk, I developed a strong compassion for people who have permanent disabilities.

At the time of the lobbying day, I was an experienced advocate who could find my way around the capitol building with my eyes closed. I am certain that my fantabulous state representative and others (who, by the way, were elected in no small part because of the great work of the League of Women Voters and my Voters Guide – thank you, very much) were more interested in what I had to say than in my appearance.

I’ll talk a bit more about the staging of legislative visits and other forms of activism in one of December’s workshops, Theatre of Change.

Broken Glass, Shattered Dreams, Becoming Whole

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of freedom, courage, and dignity for all people. It was along a street named for him that mine were so unjustly stolen from me on what was supposed to be my first day of high school 23 years ago this week. Due to a combination of healthy teenage rebellion, bipolar disorder which at the time included hallucinations and delusions (possibly the result of 12+ years of consistent prescribed codeine abuse to treat my allergies), and the circumstances of my life, I ran away from home seven times that summer. I was quickly heading toward either a living or a literal death. At the moment my life was threatened and I was attacked, my soul left my body and did not start to return, albeit in little unrecognizable fragments, until at least five years later.

At a recent Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley training, the speaker lamented about a time when women were revictimized by the police. I lived through that time. The police suggested that I was raped by a friend. They scrutinized my clothing, suggesting that I provoked the attack even though I work a long sleeve shirt and long pants. The chief of police laughed out loud at me when I told him the perpetrator told me he was a cop. The detective told me he had a never-ending mountain of paperwork and that he didn’t have time to work on false reports. The police lost the evidence that could have been used in court. They manipulated my family into believing that I made the story up to get attention. They were skilled oppressors.

About 15 years later, I moved back to my home community after living in Philadelphia for the past six years. I started a job just down the street from the scene of the crime as an advocacy and outreach coordinator at a regional food bank. It was here that I both confronted my past and found my future. I passed by that awful place nearly day on my way to and home from work, a symbolically meaningful everyday act that gained significance over time. I was no longer a desperate teenager destined for death; I was a woman on a mission. I had the tremendous responsibility of advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in my community. People like me. I was excited about my work and felt truly alive. I realized that I lived so that I could be an example of compassion, hope, and love.

The police sent me a letter to tell me that they would put a copy of the emergency food resource guide I created in every patrol car in the city.

When I first thought of sharing this story on this blog, I felt a sense of personal shame. But really, I should feel ashamed that it has taken me over 20 years to share my story in a meaningful and helpful way. I feel ashamed that women and children are still at risk of being unsafe in my community. I am ashamed that people who suffer from mental illness are socially, culturally, and economically marginalized. I have a lot of compassion for people who are chronically homeless, addicted, or otherwise feel stuck in a tumultuous cycle. That was me. That is me. That is us.