put up your dukes, asshole

put up your dukes, asshole

Over the past couple of days, I’ve heard from a number of friends with questions about what they should do in response to the outcome of the election; how they can have a impact in the face of the administration that will be in The White House in January. I’ve written this post with those folks in mind.

1. He’s going to be President. And even if you magically get rid of him, then you have Mike Pence. 

I don’t say this to suggest that people shouldn’t be in the streets chanting “Not my president!” this week and throughout the four years he (presumably) will be in office. It’s INCREDIBLY important that this is happening. It’s obviously cathartic for those who are involved, but it also sends a message to him and to those who will work with him (like the Republican-led Senate and House) that he does not have a resounding mandate from the American people. (He may have been given the keys to the car, but our hands are firmly on the parking brake.) It also sends a valuable message internationally: we’re not all xenophobic, racist, sexist assholes with messiah complexes and we don’t want to be told what to do by someone who is. Many of us, in fact, know how to and would like to play nicely, with the recognition that the global sandbox is large – and diverse.

I DO say this because I’ve seen people share ideas for how to prevent his ascension and I think it’s a waste of time and energy that is going to be greatly needed over the next four years. And it ignores the reality that Mike Pence may not be a blowhard, but he IS a homophobic prick who wants to take control of our bodies away from women and that, even if we get rid of Pence, the next in line is Speaker Paul Ryan. (Shudder.)

We need to confront reality: this is the card we have been dealt. Play it.

2. Stay and do your part.

For those of you who are talking about leaving? That’s nice for you, but there are a whole bunch of folks who don’t have that luxury and could use your help.

3. Educate yourself. Just because he doesn’t understand how the government works doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In addition to the fact that he is a liar, a pig, and a racist, xenophobic, sexist creep, the thing that has driven me most batty about him is that he doesn’t seem to know how government works. He hasn’t read the Constitution (Could someone get this man a copy of the Constitution for Dummies?), he doesn’t grasp checks and balances and the limitations of the Executive Office and – which is weird for a Republican – he seems to think more power sits in the federal government (versus with the states) than actually does. The asshat doesn’t even know what Obamacare is, except that he doesn’t like it. I supported Hillary, in part, for the same reason I hire someone who knows how to use a camera when we need to film something; she knows how it works.

The thing is, a fair number of us need to pull out our U.S. Civics textbooks too, if we’re going to be able to be effective in response to the shit that is going to be flying our way. In particular, it is important to know what gets decided at the state/local versus federal level. For many of us who are lucky enough to live in “blue” states, we can advocate for and support our state, county, and city-level lawmakers to pass legislation that reflects our values and protects our neighbors and which can counter more hateful decisions that are being made at the federal level. (In most cases, state law overrides federal law.) We can also pay attention to what is happening at the state, county, and city-level in OTHER states and engage our friends who live there to be involved and do the same.

The kinds of issues that are decided locally versus at the federal level include many/most voting rights issues, education policy, LGBTQ discrimination/anti-discrimination policies, reproductive rights, police/criminal justice reform, and more. It is something about which you can be hopeful because you HAVE POWER.

4. We have allies at the federal level. 

While I hope they don’t choose to obstruct for the sake of being obstructionists – like their GOP brethren did in response to Obama – there are quite a few Democrats in the House and Senate who will be grabbing hands and playing the most important game of Red Rover EVER. They may represent you, they may not. But they need to hear from you when the time comes. And those who don’t seem like obvious allies? They need to hear from you too. There are plenty of GOP members of Congress who think he is bat shit crazy. Appeal to their better selves.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Support the folks who were doing work before and will continue to do tomorrow and the day after as well.

I’ve seen some folks talk online about starting new organizations. PLEASE avoid the temptation. Of course, I say this with the SIGNIFICANT caveat that Black Lives Matter is relatively newly created and has had an invaluable impact. But it was done so organically and because there was a gap that needed to be filled and its message resonated with those who became involved and who may not have been involved otherwise. (Read Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright for his take on their origin story and because Jeff is one of the most important voices in this country.) So, sure, if there IS a gap, fill it. But educate yourself first and consider making the groups who are not as strong as they could be STRONG.

I know of LOTS of groups who are getting by with minimal staff and tiny budgets that could use volunteers, people who can help them to get their messages out, and MONEY to help them to change the world. And I would be happy to share them with you if you’re looking to have an impact on a particular issue.

6. Subscribe to a newspaper.

I’m serious. Pay for your content. The next President has been hostile to the press, particularly those who call him out on his lies. WE NEED THEM. They fact check his bullshit. They let us know what is UP. And they NEEDS TO GET PAID to be able to continue to do so or they go away.

7. SCOTUS are people.

I am admittedly terrified about the impact that he will have on the Supreme Court – for generations to come. But while it can be scary that many decisions that affect our lives are decided by NINE people, they are in fact people. And one of the criteria they consider when they make their decisions is whether or not the country is READY for the change that would result from their decisions. So, get your shit together and pay attention to the SCOTUS docket (the SCOTUS blog is your friend) and, when an issue that is important to you is coming up, TALK ABOUT IT. Share news stories about it. In a couple of months, Aggregate is going to be on your case to talk about transgender issues for this very reason. SHOW UP.

8. Rock the Vote EVERY Day.

About twenty years ago I moved to Los Angeles to work at Rock the Vote. I ran a campaign that aimed to help young people understand that policy change happened on a day-to-day basis; that Election Day was not the only chance you had to have your voice heard. We traveled the country looking for stories of real young people who were getting skate parks built, overturning city council decisions to prevent all ages shows, increasing funding for higher education. And we found the little bastards. They recognized their ability to have an impact on issues that mattered to them. Please do the same. And please ask me – and my team – when you need help to do so. Our jobs became more difficult on November 8, but our passion for social justice persists.

Put up your dukes, asshole, we’re coming to get you.

If you have any more ideas, please share in the comments.

The John Hughes Effect

The John Hughes Effect

When I was 15, I wrote a fan letter to John Hughes and became his pen pal.

This isn’t that blog post. If you want to know that story, you can read it here.

But this blog post is about reaching out to people to ask them for something—even when you think they might be too busy or too important or some other such nonsense—because, in my experience, it’s pretty likely that they are going to come through for you. (I call it “the John Hughes effect,” because it was Hughes that taught me this lesson.) In fact, if they are indeed “busy” or “important,” it’s likely because they have asked other people for help, and those people have come through for them. They’re ready to do the same.

Last week I did an exercise to demonstrate this idea to my staff, whom I am encouraging to be more willing to reach out to people who can help them to understand issues we’re working on, to connect them with people we don’t know, to solve problems for our clients, or to uncover opportunities for us to take on new projects.

My “exercise” involved sending an email to 179 people I know, combing through my 1,200+ LinkedIn connections (who are all these people?) to identify folks from a range of fields and parts of the world. They were friends, former classmates and colleagues, and people with whom I may have had a cup of coffee. Once.

In the email, I asked each recipient to send me 1-2 conferences they had attended that they thought were inspiring so that I could share their recommendations with our clients. Within a week, I had a thirty percent response rate. (For those of you who are bad at math that means about 60 people got back to me.) Some of the people even asked others they knew to share their ideas and they did. Random acts of stranger kindness. Crazy.

It was heartening—it’s nice to hear from people with whom you haven’t spoken in a while. It was interesting—I learned about people’s new jobs and newly developed areas of interest. I got a dinner invitation last week; a drink invitation this week; a new client; a bunch of phone calls; a new Facebook friend; plans to have drinks when I am next in DC, Los Angeles, and New York; plans to have drinks when they are next in Seattle; an invite to Detroit and an invite to Belgium; a baby picture; a report that would be useful to one of our clients; and a couple of exchanges about just how useless conferences can be.

One of my favorite responses was from Farai Chideya, who reports for FiveThirtyEight:

Hey — I’m running around on election duty but look up Spark Camp.”

People who are reporting on this crazy ass presidential election have time to respond to random requests for help. The people in your network do too. People you don’t even know do as well.

The secret? Just ask. To listen to your idea. To introduce you to someone. To teach you about something that is their passion or area of expertise. If they can’t do it, they won’t.

And life goes on.

A couple of the people to whom we reached out asked to see the list when we had pulled it together, which I did last night. It was, after all, the least I could do. I’m sharing it with you as well, because you’ve read this far. If you have ideas for additional conferences to add to the list, share them in the comments.

Now go ask someone for help. 

(By the way, one of the things we do for some of our clients is to support them to attend conferences. We identify conferences that might not be on their radar, pitch them as speakers, help them prepare their talks and presentations, identify people who will be speaking or attending with whom they may want to meet, and provide them with background information and suggestions for topics to discuss. We also support them to use social media to make the most out of their attendance—primarily to connect with those who are also in attendance, but also to promote their talk if they are giving one. And we support them once they have returned as well, helping them to think through how to follow up with connections they made and to share or act on ideas that were inspired by a conversation they had or a presentation they saw. If this is something that might be of value to you or your organization, let us know. We might be able to help.)

streetwise revisited: one story among the countless

streetwise revisited: one story among the countless

I first came across this photograph in May 2015 when I learned the photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, had passed away. I felt entranced by the photograph’s irony: a child living in Seattle dressed up to look like an adult French prostitute. This costume wasn’t far off from reality.

This photo is part of a larger collection of photographs by Mary Ellen Mark for a 1983 LIFE magazine piece “Streets of the Lost,” that documented the lives of street children in Seattle who made their living as prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers. Among these children was Erin Blackwell (pictured above), known as Tiny, who spent her time on the streets with her friends as a prostitute and lived with her alcoholic mother who said she thought Blackwell’s prostitution was “just a phase.” A year later, in 1984, Mary Ellen Mark and her filmmaker husband, Martin Bell, released STREETWISE, a documentary film about the same children that was nominated for an Academy Award. While at the time Seattle was credited as “America’s most livable city,” this story painted a stark contrast.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Seattle Public Library to see a collection of Mary Ellen Mark’s photographs—“Streetwise Revisited: A 30-year Journey”—that included images from the Life feature, stills from the film STREETWISE, and new photographs that fill in the gaps in Blackwell’s story over the decades.

Thirty-three years later, it’s heartbreaking how Blackwell’s story is still relevant today. Families with children make up a quarter of King County’s (where Seattle is located) homeless population. The number of people without shelter in Seattle increased by 20 percent between this year and last. As the city continues to grow, so has the homeless population, which includes many with mental health issues. Blackwell’s is therefore just one of countless similar stories in Aggregate’s backyard.

I’ve come to learn that one story doesn’t change the world, but many iterations of the same tale told over time does. Hopefully Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell’s retelling of Blackwell’s story will help sway public policy in Seattle and the state of Washington to come up with effective ways to address homelessness, and the trauma, abuse, and addiction with which it is associated.

In fact, I like to think this is why Mark and Bell were relentless in sharing Blackwell’s life with us. The story must continue to be told. We must continue to listen and talk about the issues. We must be empathetic and take action to help those around us.

If you have the chance, go and see “Streetwise Revisited: A 30-year Journey” at the Central Library before it closes on November 3. Mark and her husband were working on a follow-up documentary on Blackwell’s life since STREETWISE. Despite Mark’s passing last year, the film, “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,” is complete and will be screened at the Central Library on October 14. Martin Bell will be present for a Q&A session following the screening. I hope you can make it. Bring a friend and keep the conversation alive.


Photo credit: Mary Ellen Mark

Poetry, Buses, and Activism

Poetry, Buses, and Activism

I saw a bus ad the other day calling for submissions for Poetry on Buses, one of my favorite public art programs in Seattle. It reminded me of a conversation I had back in May with my friend Elizabeth Austen, who was the Washington State poet laureate until earlier this year.


I’d been thinking about art as activism after writing about Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, when I concluded that art doesn’t necessarily exist to change the world, but to spark conversation, and perhaps, to set viewers on a path towards action down the road.


When I asked Elizabeth her thoughts on the topic she told me, “To choose to be an artist in our culture is in itself a form of activism. And activism isn’t just about ‘let’s change the world,’ it can be about ‘let’s change ourselves, let’s make space for humanity.’” This statement is one of the reasons I love Elizabeth (I actually have a line from one of her poems tattooed on my arm, so I’m not kidding)––she reminds me that there are many ways to be in the world.


Whether or not she defines herself as an activist poet, Elizabeth finds the most joy and meaning as a poet when her work causes people to think about something in a different way. And she thinks we should all be reading poetry by poets like Claudia Rankine, Lucille Clifton, Tim Seibles, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, and Danez Smith. She also shared that there is “a huge, fabulous area of very socially and politically engaged poetry happening now––the internet has democratized access and sprouted up communities of poets.” So, your new favorite activist poet may be just a few mouse clicks away.


If you’ve got a poem to share—activist or otherwise—and are a resident of King County, Washington, consider submitting your own poem to this year’s Poetry on Buses project, Your Body of Water.


Image credit: Chris Blakeley via Flickr

The Art Points to Something: Kehinde Wiley’s “A New Republic”

The Art Points to Something: Kehinde Wiley’s “A New Republic”

I’ve never been as excited for a museum exhibition as I was for the opening of Kehinde Wiley’s “A New Republic” at Seattle Art Museum (SAM). The New York-based, Yale-trained artist is known for his larger than life, vividly colored portraits depicting young men of color in historical poses and scenes. His Anthony of Padua (pictured above), for example, is based on El Greco’s 14th century original, and like so many of his pieces, seeks to draw attention to, and counter, the historical absence of people of color in painting and art.


The inspiration for this body of work was a discarded mugshot of a young African American man, which Wiley found on a Harlem street. He started thinking about mugshots as “a perverse type of portraiture,” where subjects have no control over their positioning, in contrast to 18th century portraits of subjects “positioning themselves in states of stately grace and self-possession.” (A portrait of that mugshot is part of “A New Republic,” and it’s one of my favorites).


My enthusiasm about Wiley’s SAM exhibition is twofold: the art is strikingly beautiful; and, Wiley’s work is rooted in deep social questions of race, identity, power, and privilege. The work is powerful, and in my book, a must-see. It was also an important reminder that a single story does not change the world, and that art is art––it doesn’t necessarily exist to change the world, but to spark conversation, and perhaps, set viewers on a path towards action down the road. As Wiley told The Stranger’s art critic Jen Graves, “In the end, I’m not changing negative history or stereotypes. All I’m doing is rubbing these two oppositional forms together and creating a sensation that’s bittersweet because the art points to something, but it’s not in and of itself a redemptive act.”


“A New Republic” is on view at Seattle Art Museum through Sunday, May 8. Discount tickets are available on Thursday, May 5 (the first Thursday of the month).


Image: Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, American, b. 1977, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Seattle Art Museum, gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8. © Kehinde Wiley. Photo: Max Yawney, courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

the loudest day for american women: international women’s day

the loudest day for american women: international women’s day

Five years ago today, a man in Paris stopped me to give me a flower as I walked down the Boulevard St. Germain.

“For you, on your special day,” he told me. Reading the confusion on my face, he quickly added, “Happy International Women’s Day!”

I smiled and thanked him as I accepted the flower.

Twenty-one years I’d been living on this earth, and March 8, 2011 was the first time I had ever heard of International Women’s Day. Why did I have to move abroad to learn about this important commemoration?

Women’s Day isn’t a foreign concept. Its roots can be traced back to February 28, 1909 in the United States when the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Women’s Day, but progress on national recognition for this occasion stalled with the dissolution of the party and earning the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations began to recognize and celebrate the day. In 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

Perhaps the occasion’s ties to labor ideals associated with Lenin’s socialist party affected its success in the United States. Perhaps male politicians thought it was enough to give women the right to vote in 1920 or allowing women to permanently join the workforce after World War II was significant progress.

Whatever the reasons were that have stopped International Women’s Day from being as widely-celebrated in the United States as holidays like Mother’s Day, they are no longer valid. It’s 2016. We should be celebrating all women at all stages of life, especially the independent, working woman.

According to a study by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, women today drive the global economies. We invest more of our income than men in education, health, and nutrition, yet in the global workforce, we make 10 to 30 percent less money than men. If women were paid an equal rate, $28 trillion (26%) could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. If you really think about it, parity in the workforce would open up opportunities and resources to address some of our biggest social challenges.

Today should be celebrated as loudly as Mother’s Day, if not louder. The conversation today should be about gender parity, but it should also go beyond that. We should be talking about empowering women of all ages by: celebrating female friendships, heroes, and matriarchy; embracing singlehood as an opportunity for independence, strength, and growth; vocalizing our right to choose what we do with our own bodies; and, sharing the gifts of diversity in age, physical appearance, and culture. Most importantly, today’s conversations should include men. We cannot expect them to know or share in our thinking if we exclude them.

March 8, 2011 marked the first time I was acknowledged for being a woman in this world—no strings attached—and I continue to celebrate International Women’s Day with my family and friends each year.

Join me in loudly celebrating double X chromosomes today by sharing your appreciation with your friends and family. You can join the larger conversation on social media by using the hashtag #IWD2016.