Hey, GOP, Now What?

–I found this draft in my folder from August on 2016.  Twenty nine months later, it feels even more tragic than it did then.  During the campaign, I remember thinking that policial *rhetoric* had died.  Now, it seems the great art of statesmanship itself has been discarded in favor of strongman autocracy. I do not know where we go from here, and I genuinely hate that it seems our constitutional government requires what will be very aggressive accountability.  Can a system so corrupt be restored? what sacrifices will that require? Where do we start? — 

I remember reading the articles in 2004.  John Kerry was not a popular presidential candidate and upon his nomination and subsequent loss, the pundits called the Democratic party unfocused, a shamble, and generally were ready to write the whole thing off.  The progressive movement had stalled and it seemed as if we were entering a time of renewed “family values” a re-normalizing of racism, sexism and militarism as the foundations of our country.

However, Kerry was simply uninspiring. He didn’t motivate the “fringe left” and was considered too centrist for many.  Apathy was the biggest threat.  A lack of passion and turn out.  That year, George Lakoff wrote a book “Don’t Think of an Elephant”  and challenged progressives to “reframe” the conversation. This wasn’t new, and Lakoff wasn’t the first.  But his simple book equipped community organizers, pastors, thinkers, and a great rising president all to begin to ask what could unify the diverse coalitions that compose the American left.

So in 2016, we watched two conventions, and the second was not reactionary. In fact, it was Trump’s reaction to the DNC convention that probably created the most enduring story of either convention.  One eloquent Muslim American, Harvard-trained lawyer, father spoke of his son, a solider who died while serving in the U.S. Army.   He looked at screen and offered Trump a pocket copy of the Constitution.

(Draft ended, conclusion from 2018) 

Later we learned that Khizr Khan often carries these in his pocket.  Khan so loves the established rule of law that he carries a copy of our by-laws in his pocket. Khan, whose trust is not in ONE person but the many: our collective agreement to live together and create a common good which is overall greater than what any one could achieve alone. 

In 2016, the contrast was too easily obscured.  The strong man candidate claimed to care about factory jobs in the rust belt.  The Republican campaign claimed to be obsessed with holding someone accountable for what turns out to have been an inconsequential violation of federal email security policy.  Appealing to claims of order and security, blatant racism and sexism were dismissed a personal foibles which would not become policy. 

But one of the first acts of this administration was to attempt to ban immigration from six middle eastern and Mediterranean countries with predominantly Muslim populations. There was nothing trivial, inconsequential, or personal about the racism enthroned in 2016. 

And in hindsight, we realize that using the tactic of creating stronger bonds by establishing a common enemy is not only fundamentally lazy but also fundamentally evil. Progressives cannot both be progressive and choose a common enemy – if the enemy is a group of people. 

So, let’s start here: by reaffirming what we stand for. 

BUT we can define things we are for, and against, clearly.  We are against racism. Progressives are against corruption: in it’s many forms, including the status quo of the current federal budgeting system. We oppose the military industrial complex and the resulting government funded corporations – and that is what it has become, a lot of supposedly private, profit making corporations whose profits are tax dollar spending on expensive weapons of war.   I support a budget which prioritizes bridges and roads over bombers and submarines. 

We oppose hunger, ignorance, homelessness, and failing infrastructure.  I support farm bills and international trade policy which ensures sufficient food for every human.

We oppose ignorance, racism, and homelessness; therefore, progressives support well funded, expensive, radically staffed schools.  Schools with free lunches for all, buses, social workers, sports, music, libraries, and tutoring after school at no cost. 

Finally, progressives stand for democracy.  I mean at it’s fundamental level, progressives believe that together, we make better decisions than an individual or small group ever could.  Therefore, we stand for fair elections, transparent government processes, simple representative districts, and access to elections for all.  We support campaign finance regulations, because limiting the power of money makes running for election more accessible to people with fewer dollars.  (Because we do NOT believe that our current economy is fair; therefore, having lots of dollars is not necessarily a reflection of someone’s capacity to solve problems). 


Power

If you are the “more experienced” of a group, the person technically in charge, or otherwise the ‘normal’ or ‘insider’, you have power. Pretending you do not have power does not make it go away. Just because you do not “feel” like you have power, or just because people with *more* power or power over you exist, does not negate the power you have over others.
Therefore, just remember: Your small words of affirmation can make someone’s day. Your thoughtless teasing can wound deeper than your intentions by a factor of 10. Your off handed criticism may be heard as a deep and searing negation of other’s effort.
In one large organization where I spent many years attempting to belong, people are told that “power over” is bad.  Therefore, a culture of always pretending and trying to be “one of the peons” has developed.  Therefore, too many people with authority do not take responsibility for the extra weight and power of their words and actions bestowed by positional authority.

Then, regardless of intention: harm happens.   The outsiders, newbies, or underling is only permitted to ask for the tools they need for their job,  after they have determined that the powerful-person will say “yes” Otherwise, the underling is BLAMED for the fact that the powerful-person feels sad about having to say no.  “How dare you ask?”   

As the one who is inside/powerful/authority, it’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to act in ways which build up, not tear down. Use your power well.

Turning Learning Opportunities into Productive Habits.

A few years ago, I was working with an intern who frustrated me NO END.

VolunteerManager would make a mistake, we would correct it, and I would expect him to realize that what was learned could apply to similar situations.   And then the next big event would happen, and he would make ten more mistakes.  We would discuss, and he would correct those technical issues, but VolunteerManager seemed to have both a significant lack of judgement and an inability to apply the lesson from one situation to other, similar ones.

So, once we had a huge event, about the fourth or fifth that he and I had planned and run together, but the largest by far. Knowing that VolunteerManager had struggled in the past with the stress on the day of an event, I planned to discuss every detail of the event with him beforehand.   In that discussion, I had two themes or principles which I would argue came up in a few ways (including that I stated them explicitly).  (1)  VolunteerManager should have zero tasks to complete on the day of the event.  His only role was “air traffic control” and answering questions when asked.  (2) No surprises on the day of the event; planning should include thinking through all that is needed and reviewing it with all involved staff or leaders.

But on the day of the event, he failed to implement both some of my specific instructions and these principles.   VolunteerManager was trying to get people to sign forms while he was telling others their tasks.  VolunteerManager had failed to pay attention to the fact that we were registering guests on paper (we had sold tickets electronically) and thought that we could have volunteers register online at the guest check in.   However, he failed to ask the two staff in charge of registration if this would work for them!

So, in our post-event discussions, I asked him directly, “Why didn’t you follow my instructions?” He said, “oh, I thought that was just a suggestion, in case I started to get overwhelmed!”  and, “Why did you think you could add that to the registration desk on the day of the event” and his reply was “I just assumed we were doing it that way and it would be easy to include volunteers.”

Well, there were two things happening here.

First, my failure to ensure that instructions were clearly differentiated from suggestions.  That is a communication issue, and while I hoped that over time I could make less effort as VolunteerManager learned my style, that never really took place. He always needed explicit directions, and often, follow up afterwards to ensure he understood them.

But the second issue was more interesting to me.

Why did it seem that each time VolunteerManager made a judgement call, he failed to implement the lessons that earlier errors and corrections could have taught?  

What he incapable of taking “this one example” and translating it to other problems or situations? And if so, how does a person develop this skill: to take instruction and use it to increase your understanding of how it relates to new and similar but different problems?

My brilliant sister and I have come up with some principles to begin to encourage people to improve our accountability mindsets and learn from what we experience.

 

The prime lesson is that every (correction / error / discussion) can help elucidate the broader principles, themes, and norms by which work should be accomplished. Nothing happens in a vacuum, every correction can tell you something about the expectations or what is required to succeed.  But first we must ensure that the team is a place which encourages this kind of learning.  Blame, shame, competition, and image-management are antithetical to open and honest learning.  People develop a need to save face when they are worried their imperfections will be used to abuse, punish or diminish them.  Is your team a safe place to  learn, or does a school yard bully fit in, ready and willing to ridicule for mistakes and punish for innocent errors?

If your team is stuck in the vindictive and image conscious, please consider reading Managing from the Heart.

Next I have four questions for a manger to ask in discussion with someone seeking to transition from learning each technical corrections to identifying themes and principles for tactical and strategic judgement:

  1. What makes this situation different? What context will repeat?

First, you have to be able to understand what clues you use to put each project, event, or problem into categories.  When many of us solve problems, we often indirectly ask ourselves, “What have I seen that was like this before?” See if you can as a manager identify the common elements between the prior situations you have learned from, or share a few and explore together the potential similarities.

  1. What future situations will share those distinguishing characteristics? What situations may require a similar solution, but may look very different at first?

If you have done question 1 well, the idea of prognosticating into the future will feel less scary.  You are not trying to identify or avoid every future possible problem, but merely to confirm your initial descriptions of themes and principles by applying them to future hypotheticals.

  1. What are the “assumptions” I make on a daily basis that are less universal than I may otherwise believe?

This is a great place to stop and take account of industry norms, racism, classism, sexism, or other inadvertent forms of exclusion, but it includes more than that.  As an event planner, do I include best practices learned in a long ago course?  What books or thought leaders have I learned from?

One way to begin to ask this question is to fly to another city, rent a car, and try to drive in rush hour traffic.  I moved from Chicago to Atlanta in 2015 and spent my first four months of driving in Georgia thinking I was going to die.  Speed limits are suggestions in Atlanta.  When you turn on your turning signal to merge into another lane in Chicago, the cars in that lane will ease off the gas to make room for you, but in Atlanta they will speed up to get out of your way.  Both result in the same impact – you can merge – but they are literally opposite reactions. After almost two years of Atlanta driving, a friend from the Midwest moved to Atlanta and we now carpool together.  She hates Atlanta traffic because “speed up and get out of your way” seems rude to her – why did they do that, rather than ease off and let me in?  She’s beginning to figure out the weird foibles that are Atlanta roads, but her struggle really reminded me that a behavior I had learned to categorize as helpful (I still get to merge) looks extremely rude for someone accustomed to something else.

What patterns have your team, your community, your industry developed which need to be introduced to people, rather than assumed?   *Note in the church we called this “hidden language” a term useful to google if you’re interested.

  1. When are my expectations as a manager unreasonable?

I.e. when am I wishing that my supervisee would just read my mind?   It is unreasonable for me to expect my supervisees to know that I always print two-sided, except thank you letters.  Company styles guides are created because only designers know that the font matters, but so does the size of the lettering, or the decision to center align vs. left aligning a logo.  Ask yourself, does this need to be spelled out? And is it something I would have resented from a manager when I was entry level?  What could managers have taught me to reveal their goals and motivations?

  1. How can I as the manager better describe this specific situation to elucidate the important patterns and themes that should guide the work?

Honestly, part of your job as a manager is to equip your team for success, and on a regular basis that is going to mean some form of translation.   In order to translate to your team the goals, or principles, or boundaries of their work, you must first know the language of your team members.  You must be fluent in their assumptions and hopes and skills and industry expectations.  No, you should not be a expert in all the things they are experts in, but you should know enough to understand when you tell them to merge into another lane and they are in Chicago for the first time, they should not be surprised when someone slows down to create a sufficient gap.  Or in the reverse – in Atlanta? Just turn on that signal a little early and give the fast guys a momen to get out of your way.

Why I refuse to judge

Each person who comes to Living Room is unique, but many share a hard to describe determination. Like the brilliant woman who spoke during Taste of Life, many are working while caring for young children or elderly parents. Others have been working two or even three jobs, and still others have learned that work will not happen until they have daily access to a shower and some ability to launder their clothes.

This is one of the most remarkable, and frustrating, things about working with the homeless population. Their needs are infinitely simple, tangible, and attainable. In fact, their greatest desires are things I take so much for granted. I have been known to leave the keys in the lock to the front door of my house. Because I’m so accustomed to the privacy and safety of doors that close, and locks that hold, I forgot to double check. Some case managers have reported that will people who move into an apartment or private room after many months or years on the streets manifest a form of PTSD in which they become utterly convinced that someone has entered their room, taken, broken or moved their things.
Because when you’re sleeping on the streets, that happens. It happens every night – someone steals your shoes from under your bed in the shelter. A group comes upon you and takes everything you have, no matter how worthless. You never fall fully asleep because you are afraid if you did, someone might take your last $5, the one you have been saving to buy breakfast. Or they might steal the last third of your sandwich.

 

No matter how severe the obstacles they face, people who come to Living Room do so because they bring a seed of hope inside of them.  A belief that they are not the “walking dead” just biding time until the  virus consumes their final t-cell and decimates their immune system.

They believe life can be better than that.    Their  minds betray them, as many of our minds are wont to do, but that hope? it actually DOES matter. It helps people eventually to believe that the lock stayed closed, their medicines will still be present when they wake up, and after a time, they can truely rest easy, in a chair, without counting the seconds before someone comes to usher them off.

Autonomy And Workers

what it takes to do my job well: we don’t have a policy on “refunds” after an event. but a VERY RELIABLE and LONG TIME donor was overcharged by $10. he didn’t ASK For a refund, just wanted me to know of the overcharge, so I refunded him, as a GOOD FAITH expression of his relationship to the organization. I didn’t think to ask until afterwards, but DID inform my supervisor.

…Having that kind of authority to make decisions is LITERALLY the difference between the ability to thinking strategically and not.

BY which i mean, if i’m worried or primarily engaged (emotionally OR rationally) in pleasing my superiors, than I’m NOT primarily engaged (mentally) in thinking “what will create the best results).

this may be why after a few years of very external facing roles, I fantasize about the simplicity of an internal operations / HR / leadership development role. Because I will not have to negotiate the necessary and yet often frustrations of pleasing both the hierarchies and the customers/clients.

Takers and Workers

Walk through Chicago. Walk north and south on Pulaski or Ashland. Go further north than Lawrence and further South than 55th street. Note the literal condition of the pavement, the street lights, the signs. Do the same in Atlanta, Columbus, St. Louis, New York. You get the picture. The disparity in infrastructure spending WITHIN THE SAME CITY LIMITS is shocking.

In the 90s, when welfare reform was implemented, most (numerically) of the people who were “kicked off the roles” lived either in under-served inner cities or under-served tiny rural areas. These communities share some common traits: poorly managed or unfunded roads, bridges, and physical Infrastructure, failed or nonexistent economic planning (e.g. No Tax cuts or credits for job creation), and concentrated poverty which undercuts the time, motivation, and access required for successful political lobbying (generating interest from those with the capital or political influence to direct investment).

Therefore, I suggest that we need to acknowledge something. Dependence is the RESULT, not the cause of government spending. For those of us who received Great educations in areas with proactive officials who pounded pavement every single day to bring / bring back jobs, the system works. For some exceptional folks, the system can’t prevent their success. But do we really expect someone who went to school in a system where there were not enough books for every student, or the Windows had holes covered in plastic, while driving over roads with potholes to do as well as the kid whose school had a decently paid career counselor, three MSW guidance counselors, and extra books stacked in piles in clean supply closets?

Poor people are not the one who are taking us for a ride. Our politicoeconomic system has systematically provided greater opportunity to some communities which were not distributed equitably.

Whose life do you real want to be subsidizing through tax investments in schools, roads, protection and tax credits?

I choose the janitors, factory line(wo)men, the burger flippers, the truck drivers, the teachers, the security guards, the nonprofit professionals, the bus drivers, the students, the community organizers, the laid off miners, the dismissed car company employees, the hard working middle & working class whose jobs were moved overseas.

Maybe, rather than clinging to the well disproven false hope of “trickle down”, we should acknowledge that any unbridled capitalism is FOUNDED UPON and will always work to create and enforce the existence of an *underpaid and powerless* working class… The power disparity between capital holders (owners) and labor is a feature, not a bug, in the system. Exploitation must be mitigated by outside forces.

Disclaimer: although I focus on economics in this post, the issues here are also fundamentally distorted by racism. We cannot talk about poverty without talking about redlining, mortgage policies, school funding laws designed to prevent equity, the war “on drugs”, sentencing a policing, and other deeply wrong laws and policies which whether by design or merely in their implementation, conspired to PREVENT a more just society. Racism is (In Part) economic terrorism, and it greatly exacerbates the inequity being recreated.

Intolerance for Intolerance

It turns out, Newton county is the site of the latest struggle in our “culture wars.”

I live less than 10 miles from Newton county line.  I grew up in this area, shopped, ate, worked, and went to doctors appointments here. This is my home.  In fact, Rockdale (the county in which I currently live and grew up) was actually carved OUT of Newton county during the mid 19th century for silly local politics reasons.

This is my home, and I am ashamed of my people.  I was raised to be better than this. We are better than this.

Discrimination is wrong.

First, I want to make something clear. Discrimination is not the same as establishing social boundaries.  Discrimination is not the same as being a good judge of character.  It’s NOT discrimination to hire the more experienced or skilled person for a job. It is discrimination to refuse to hire a person because of categories entirely unrelated for the work they are applying to do.  In practical terms, it is logical to refuse to hire a person who is unable to climb a ladder for that window washing job, but discrimination to refuse to hire the same person for a data analysis position. 

Discrimination is determined by two things – both motivation and impact – and discrimination by motivation is something our culture has no problem identifying and condemning. The racism of the KKK, sexist comments, refusing to hire someone because they have an accent or are (insert identity here).   However, discrimination by impact is often unintentional and perpetuated by ignorance, willful naivete, laziness, or a much more subtle form of disrespect.

However, ignoring discriminatory outcomes is equally wrong.

Discrimination by impact is much harder to name or condemn, because the people who engage in this are so likely to have supposedly benign or even positive motivations.

But that does not matter.  Literacy tests required are inherently classist.  “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Rooting for a sports team whose mascot turns a human identity into a caricature and in fact uses a harsh slur to do so is racist.

Some impact-discrimination is even more subtle, but equally malignant. Describing all great leaders as tall, strong, and assertive, but describing strong women as abrasive is sexist. Work dress codes which describe kinky hair as unprofessional, but do not require straight hair to be pulled back to restrained are racist. In fact, there is a legal term for this: disparate impact.  A policy is discriminatory if it has a much stronger adverse impact on one group or another based on a protected identity

Often, those of us who are in the majority cannot see the ways our seemingly unrelated, innocuous, or even beneficial-seeming behaviors actually result in discriminatory outcomes.  When they are pointed out, rather than questioning our demands, we dig in and spend so much time focusing our our supposedly benign or beneficial reasons that we refuse to acknowledge the harm done to those groups impacted by our decisions.  I had a boss once who was a rather sneaky and dishonest bully. When she was called out on bad behavior, she would also deflect the conversation. “Oh, but this project is so good for the (people we served)!”  or “but every head of an organizational agency acts this way, it’s how things are done.”  I never understood why until I realized she genuinely believed everyone is corrupt, willing to do favors for their friends and lying to accomplish important goals.

Most of us believe that we are driven by good motivations, and that is part of the problem.  Your good motivation does not mean your behavior is beneficial, correct, or will have the impact you desire.  But we believe so firmly that our motivations are key that even within activist circles we often police one another in the name of “efficacy.”  That well meaning advice usually goes something like “but if you would stop disrupting the peace, we would be better accepted by the majority and could get more done.” Activists call this “respectability politics.” Anytime we demand that the person asking to be fully included do so only in ways that do not make the already-included feel uncomfortable, we need to question what is really at play.  (We name it as respectability because much of the time, protesters are accused of being disrespectful or impolite because they have the audacity to point out that they have been excluded, bullied, or oppressed.)

Basically, not-being-racist is not enough.

If you are simply avoiding the worst forms of racism, you may or may not actually be perpetuating unintentional impact discrimination.

And the United States of America was founded on some basic principles of non-discrimination.  Although the common narrative about non-conformist-protestant pilgrims fleeing religious persecution may or may not be historically precise, it is a formative myth.  And by formative myth, I mean a story people tell that defines who we are as a people, what we value, how an individual fits within the group, and whom we consider to be our own.

The Mayflower pilgrims left England (and then Holland) so that they could worship in peace. Rhode Island was founded because Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were exiled from the Plymouth (MA) colony. Maryland was the one place where Catholics were accepted and Pennsylvania a great refuge for the Anabaptist, Mennonites, and Quakers.  Over and over again, the founding of the nation is told as a story about people who just wanted religious freedom.

And I have always been fascinated that when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and eventually the Constitution, this value of religious FREEDOM was what got codified.  This language has been so threatening to many that in our less than 250 year history, there have been more than a dozen organized groups attempting to add an amendment to make the country and government explicitly Christian.  Each have failed, in part because the plain language of the first amendment to the constitution is rather clear.

The U.S. constitution states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”

In  Article VI. The first amendment clarifies,  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Honestly, our founding mythology, our written documents, and our history of rejecting “Christian” amendments should be more than enough evidence to reject any signs of religious discrimination.

The state of GEORGIA constitution states “No inhabitant of this state shall be molested in person or property or be prohibited from holding any public office or trust on account of religious opinions; but the right of freedom of religion shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.”

We MUST protect the right all ALL Americans to practice religion as they see fit. And that does not only mean preventing armed militias , massacres , or religious tests for office.

My Christian Faith also calls discrimination wrong: Jesus, In fact, took the time to stop at a well and cross social boundaries to speak with a woman of Samaria… of a religion the Jews considered to be pure heresy! (John 4:7-27)

If you claim that your Christian faith justifies or demands or encourages you from taking up armed or unarmed protest to keep “those other people” out, you are a SHAME to my God, to the BIble, and to Jesus. Go home, pray, and consider Exodus 22:21 AND ACTS 10.

AND lest I be misconstrued, YES, I believe Islam to be GOOD FOR AMERICA, it is a religion of FAITH, PRAYER, FASTING (aka abstinence), CHARITY, and PILGRIMAGE (I.e. devotion to tradition).