Indivisible

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I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to HATE hearing phrases like:

There ARE actions we can all take to create the change we want.

What I find equally annoying are my own bromides. Statements such as:

Just remember, WE ARE THE MAJORITY. There are 2.85 million more voters in this country that DID NOT VOTE FOR TRUMP than DID vote for him.

Really, Chair?

Please, someone make me – and them – STOP.

It’s not that I don’t believe these to be truisms, along with many others. It’s just that these days I am royally pissed off, scared and sometimes foaming at the mouth (Note: Believe me, folks, it’s true). Mostly, that my country is about to be led by someone who for the last year and a half I’ve considered a racist lunatic and who, with each passing day, makes statements, speeches, tweets and actions that only confirm those feelings tenfold.

Me, 90% of the time

Me, 90% of the time

It takes a certain kind of person to endure this kind of pressure with a combination of action, dignity and grace. People like Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) who said this week what the majority of us in the country are all thinking – that Trump is not a legitimate president because his election was illegitimate.

There is convincing evidence Russia significantly interfered with the election process, Rep. Lewis explained.   He and others also added that based on conversations with the FBI and others there is also apparently widespread suspicion and isolated pieces of mounting proof that members of Trump’s campaign, and perhaps the candidate himself, were willing and/or active participants in this swindle.

Courtesy of a Zurich based German language newspaper. #nailedit

Courtesy of a Zurich based German language newspaper. #nailedit

So for those many reasons, Rep. Lewis then announced he will not attend Trump’s inauguration in less than week. Nor will, following his announcement, a growing list of other members of Congress, who are pressing for an internal and/or external investigation into the election and Trump. One that they will likely get – in detail.

See, that’s exactly how action happens. Unvarnished, calm truths – elucidated by a few facts and plausible theories – followed up with a plan to resist, protest and create the change you want based on those truths.

Of course, Rep. Lewis marched with Dr. Martin Luther King at Selma in the 1960s fighting segregation, got his head beaten in by police, and nearly lost his life doing it. He’s bold, courageous and well trained.

trump712

Or as some put it “all talk.” #eyeroll #enough

But what’s the average passive scare-dy cat like me – and perhaps you — to do?

This brings us to INDIVISIBLE: A PRACTICAL GUIDE for RESISTING THE TRUMP AGENDA.  

Required reading #doit

Required reading #doit

It’s readable, smart and snappy and was written by former congressional staffers who wanted to chart out step-by-step, to us ordinary folks, the best ways to make Congress listen . You can read and/or download the breezy 26 page pamphlet here: indivisibleguide.com.

Think of it as Advocacy/Politics/Change for Dummies.

Indivisible has only been posted a matter of weeks and already there are Indivisible GROUPS springing up all over the country that use the short, printed guide as a jumping off point primer on how to get lawmakers to stop crazy people from hijacking the country you love.

How to become your own version of Mr. Smith

How to become your own version of Mr. Smith

No, I’m not apologizing for my words. I’m speaking to you – not to those who disagree with me or to those on the fence who I want to persuade. I have to be more polite to them to affect change. At least publicly. Which doesn’t mean I can’t be passionate, strong-minded and direct in their presence. Or scream, yell and curse when they’re not around.

See, that’s what I learned at one of the advocacy groups inspired by Indivisible I accidentally attended this weekend. Some weeks before a friend of mine saw one of my feverish political posts (Note: Or rants, or pick your applicable verb) on Facebook and realized my verve had potential but my methods could use some, um…honing (?) to get me to the next level. So he invited me to join him in a Saturday afternoon of “advocacy training” at someone’s house led by a professional.

Right. At first I didn’t want to go even though I realized I should. Then I considered the alternative – more foam. So I decided to join him. And then the day before the event – where I would be required to walk into a room full of all these strangers – my personal news oracle, Rachel Maddow, actually had one of the founders of the Indivisible Guide on her TV show reporting on the very type of event I had unknowingly agreed to attend the following day.

Jees, this sounds so smart, I thought. I should get involved in that but probably won’t. Little did I know I already had committed to do so and was about to.

I say all this not to pat myself on the back to encourage all of you to take a small step out of your comfort zone into unknown territory. You can still foam, or drink, or tune out and do nothing the rest of your time. But if you allow yourself, there is also room to create some sort of active plan to counteract all of your worst (or on some days, best) instincts.

In no particular order, here is some of what I re-learned, learned for the first time, or was astounded by in the course of my training:

— Did you know you get some of the best results talking to your member of Congress? They (okay, their office) will answer ALL constituent calls and log them. But be precise and direct. This is far more effective than emails or other correspondence, which are largely ignored.   And their local phone numbers are easily found on the web.

Real people, folks!

Real people, folks! #imaginethat

— ASK for a staffer in your rep’s office that handles the issue you are calling about.   These people are almost as important as your rep because they write all the legislation and do the grunt work. Also, ask for the scheduler in the office and when you’re ready you can get a meeting on the books with the staffer and eventually the rep. Go with up to four people, armed with a personal story on your “issue.” Prepare a few thoughts, facts and questions. Know your rep’s stance. But remember, you don’t have to be an expert. It’s more about forging an ongoing relationship with them on an issue(s) you care about. And note: NEVER mention you contributed money to their campaign. That sounds like you want quid pro quo. It’s much more powerful to be a constituent with friends in their district because that means you can en masse vote them out of office.

— If your rep AGREES with all your positions CALL THEM ANYWAY. They need to know you have their back and can use your ideas. In fact, they welcome it, particularly now when the going is tough. Also, attend any town halls they have in your district. You can find these out signing up for their newsletters.

Be part of the political human pyramid!

Be part of the political human pyramid!

— If you go to sites like majorityleader.gov or senate.gov you will get a calendar for a FULL YEAR that will tell you when you rep (actually, all of them) will be in your district and state and when they will be in Washington, DC working. Schedule calls and meetings accordingly. You can also go to congress.gov and check on what bills are in what committees and on which subjects.  Check out committees your specific rep is on and contact them about the issue.

— Become part of a local organization fighting for your cause because there is more strength in numbers. This doesn’t mean you turn your life over. You go to an event or two and do what you can in the beginning. Here are some sources and ideas:

Common Cause — I am particularly interested in investigating Trump and the election. This group is on the case and effective in holding elected officials accountable. They are also BI-PARTISAN. Commoncause.org

Citizen’s Climate Lobby – An effective group if you are particularly concerned with climate change. Citizensclimatelobby.org

Funny, but missing the point ;-)

Funny, but missing the point 😉

Facebook Groups:

— If you are a white person who is particularly concerned with racism towards non-whites try White People For Black Lives.

— If you want a simple task to do everyday that will make some difference join the group Rise When We Fall. They offer options and action plans. You can also get daily emails from them. Risewhenwefall.org

— Sign up for a google news alert about the activities or any Congress member of issue you want to know about. You can choose how often you get them. It’s a summary of the latest developments and a way to stay informed.

— If you want to take a step towards a Trump impeachment, demand your reps and others support a bi-partisan independent investigation into Russian/Trump activities in the 2016 presidential election. If there is an investigation done solely within the Senate, a distinct possibility, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the power to keep specific evidence, testimony and findings secret and you will NEVER KNOW the FULL STORY.

— If you are overwhelmed with issues and can’t choose one, you are not alone. Know most of us feel this way. Go to charity navigator and peruse many worthy causes. It is a guide on what organizations do and how to donate time or money. Spend some personal time soul searching and realize you cannot do it all. And that whatever you don’t choose, someone else somewhere will choose.

When it feels like this... remember you are not alone!

When it feels like this… remember you are not alone!

Finally, the woman who ran our workshop wisely pointed out that although often it’s quoted that all politics are local, what that really means is all politics is personal. She then hesitatingly offered us the quote often attributed to Russian leader Joseph Stalin (Note: Appropriate in the age of Trump) – the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.

Meaning –- this stuff is all personal and if you relate what is meaningful to you and yours it will carry more weight than you realize.

Though if Russian orthodoxy makes you uncomfortable at this point in time – and why wouldn’t it – think instead about what Mother Theresa once said:

If I look at the mass I will never act.

And then, yeah, act. Which in turn might bring you, just a little bit of hope.

Tuff Love

Crowd-702052

Do I matter?  Have I mattered – really mattered?  Meaning, have I, or anything I’ve done, made any difference in the world? 

It’s easy to view true achievement in terms of grand accomplishments when you measure it by today’s world standards.  You know what I mean – people like Nelson Mandela, Oprah (no last name needed), Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Sting, Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, Mario Batali and Brangelina.  Or perhaps even Paris Hilton and the entire Kardashian/Kanye family, if that is what appeals to you.  Our culture elevates celebrity, reasoning those who have gained lots money and notoriety for actions in their chosen fields have made their mark on the world and those of us who don’t have those things have not — or else we too would have been so richly rewarded.

This, however, misses the point of both achievement and existence. Entirely.

Nevertheless, it is the entire point of Frank Capra’s classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. Circumstances conspire to trap Life’s plain spoken hero George Bailey in his two-bit town with a two-bit life and, in desperation, George decides to jump off the local bridge to commit what will surely turn out to be a two-bit suicide.  But this being a movie in 1946 and not 2013 where a superhero would surely have intervened, George is rescued before he can drown by an “angel” in training seeking his “wings.”  This angel, a sort of befuddled, non-descript older guy who is clearly not, nor ever has been, a Mandela, or even a Kanye, determines the only way to prove to George that his life has made any difference at all is to literally show him what his world would look like if he hadn’t existed.

The face of desperation

The face of desperation

Although it was dubbed “Capra-corn” in its day, there is a reason this movie has survived for nearly 70 years and is shown on television every Christmas Eve like clockwork.   It enables us to see ultimately that all the crappy little lives we might believe we’re living in our darkest hours are in their best moments really as expansive and meaningful as some of the greatest thinkers, artists and saintly people – those humans we today call CELEBRITIES – of our generation.  And perhaps even more so.

OKAY, that’s a nice thought, but a total movie contrivance – and just an excuse for you, Chair, to justify your own measly little life – you might say.    Fine – then let’s leave my life out of the equation.  Let’s look at a moment this week in the life of a plain spoken 53 year old bookkeeper in Decatur, Georgia named Antoinette Tuff – who through a 20 minute conversation with one very sad and troubled young man managed to alter the lives of not only hundreds of others in the elementary school where she worked, but perhaps millions of people who listened to, read about and observed what she did when she single-handedly talked a mentally disturbed individual out of the mass slaughter of children and adults who worked at the school.    And who also, through her off-the-cuff actions, countered the decades old argument of the National Rifle Association that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.

Bravery personified

Bravery personified

Uh, not so much.  Understanding and love were Ms. Tuff’s weapons (Capra-corny as that might seem) and they proved far more effective than the many rounds of bullets a young man named Michael Brandon Hill held and ultimately chose NOT to use when Ms. Tuff was done relating and listening to him.

Listen and learn:

Just as George Bailey saw that the comfortable homes he helped regular customers like him obtain, through the generosity of the two-bit Savings and Loan Bank, turn into a shanty town of crumbling, repossessed shacks had he not existed (not to mention his happy friends and family becoming lonely alcoholics, general ne’er-do-wells and antisocial, isolated depressives), Antoinette Tuff’s real life story shows us the fictional life lesson given to George Bailey in a 70 year old film is no mere fluke.  Simply sharing yourself with others when you are forced to do so by seemingly supernatural or at least unnatural circumstances, can save more people than you ever intended.  And in ways you can never know since, unlike George, we have no way to tell what would or would not have happened had we not done so.

It's OK to believe to in happy endings!

It’s OK to believe to in happy endings!

By merely telling young Mr. Hill that everyone goes through bad times, by confessing to him she herself was so distraught she tried to kill herself last year when her husband of 33 years left her (and her disabled son), and by taking the chance to assure a mentally ill man that he didn’t have to die despite having already firing some shots, and that she loved him and would stand by him and help him give himself up, Antoinette Tuff saved the lives of hundreds and the pain of thousands with merely the simplest of actions.  She also managed to show basic compassion and understanding to a potential killer in society by knowing in her soul that he was not merely just a mentally sick person who society had turned its back on and left to rot.   One act of kindness to one seriously deranged mind – one moment of understanding – can prevent carnage of unimaginable (or perhaps even imaginable, which is too bad) proportions.  It’s a scene so trite that it probably wouldn’t make the cut of a 2013 after school special – if such programming even existed in our current evolution of entertainment offerings.

We all just need a lifeline...

We all just need a lifeline…

None of this is to take anything away from Ms. Tuff’s extraordinary presence of mind or, on the other end, the achievements of a Mandela, a Rowling or even a Brangelina.  But contributing to the world comes in all sorts of sizes and iterations and who is to say who or what is more valuable or more meaningful.

It is admittedly difficult to feel at all relevant in a world where one’s worth is often measured by the number of followers on Twitter and Facebook or the size of one’s house, bank account or wardrobe.  Like – really difficult.  But every once in a while someone like Ms. Tuff comes along to show us all of the rest of that stuff is really, when it comes down to it, a whole lot of bullshit.

Hey, I want attention as much as anyone else – why else decide to become a blogging Chair with a bright red logo?  On the other hand, I also periodically return to something I once heard Oprah – our current (and perhaps forever) reigning Queen of Celebrity – say:  More than anything, everybody just wants to be heard.

I am Chairy.. hear me roar!

I am Chairy.. hear me roar!

That means not just me, or you, but everyone.  It’s one of the reasons I became a writer and I love education.  It enables us to share stories.  So often I find students in painful situations (akin to ones that I have been in) where no one was there – rejection of professional work, personal relationships and family dysfunction, all engendering useless emotions of alienation, self-doubt, and even self-hate.

How do you navigate these?  One way is to know you are not alone.  Another way is to learn what people who came before you did and how they survived.

Reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way helped me enormously.  So did an interview I once did as a reporter with director/writer James L. Brooks, who asked me about my writing aspirations and was encouraging.  So did once meeting Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman at a social occasion early in my career where he urged me, a tortured unknown in my twenties, to be kinder to myself and to not force it.  The words will come when they come.  

Add to that the words a fellow writer told me that Stephen Sondheim once said to a mutual friend – a Tony Award winning actress who was rehearsing one of his new musicals for Broadway –  “If you are not having a good time there is no point in doing this.”

Blue skies are gonna clear up

Gray skies are gonna clear up

The most significant act of compassion you can do is reveal yourself to another person.  Share something other than, well, money.  Share a part of who YOU are.  Share your pain, or love or happiness or encouragement.  My partner of 25 years volunteers with the Trevor Project and every so often a troubled young LGBTQ caller asks him about his life.  It is amazing to hear the reaction through the phone when he answers their question about his relationship status and he shares he has been with someone for 25 years.  A gay guy??  I can’t imagine how hearing that would have changed my life in my teenage years.  Or even early twenties.   And yet here I am a member of that relationship thanks, in large part, to the support I had in many different areas of my life from others.

It’s all interconnected and relevant and, most of all, MEANINGFUL.  Antoinette Tuff proved this to the mentally ill 20-year-old young man in Georgia who had an assault style weapon and 600 rounds of ammunition.  A lot has been made of the fact that Ms. Tuff is African American and the shooter is white.  If the shooter had been black would a white person have been so willing to open up??  Who knows.  And really, who cares.

This misses the point, or at least clouds it.  There is a universal example of humanity that transcends race – a sense of being listened to by someone and not ignored or marginalized.  To truly hear and really see a person is powerful stuff – for both parties.  And it cuts across race, gender, sexual preference and age.  It is, in essence, who we ALL are.

Embrace your inner "corn"

Embrace your inner “corn”

If you believe that our culture, most specifically movies, are a reflection of our current humanity, in an odd way this brings us back to It’s A Wonderful Life and George Bailey. People often ask the question, What is missing from movies today?   Perhaps it’s this – that simple shared experience of humanity told in elegant or perhaps inelegant ways.  Spectacle is important.  But what is more spectacular than being who you are in a simple human way and sharing it with the world?  Perhaps it’s time to review our definition of the spectacular.  It’s often touted that bigger is better.  But Antoinette Tuff makes one wonder whether this is a bill of goods we’ve all just been sold and it isn’t true at all.

I mean, does it really matter whether or not Ben Affleck is the best choice for Batman or even the fact that there is or isn’t a Batman/Superman sequel at all?  Big as that story was this week, it’s a lot, lot smaller than any one of our lives.