Category Archives: Inspiration and Examples

Happy Tax Day!

I’m keeping it short this year and, thanks to my oldest son, sweet.

Sometimes, maybe we just need to see things through the eyes of a 7-year-old.

In this case, a 7-year-old who was standing in the toy aisle with his hard-earned allowance, contemplating how much he had to spend.

He had already noted that the trademarked Legos cost more than the ‘regular’ sets because, as he pointed out, “they have to split the profits three ways: George Lucas, Lego, and Target.”

Yes, son. You’re right.

Now, he was adding up the prices on the smaller sets he had selected. The total came to about $16, and he had $20 to spend.

His younger brother tried to add a Lego minifigure ($2.99) to the pile, but Sam stopped him.

“Ben,” he said, “We have to leave enough to pay taxes.”

When a 5-year-old’s protest started, Sam responded, “Who do you think pays for the sidewalk you ride your scooter down? Or the library where you check out those Captain Underpants books? We all do.”

True that, second-grade wisdom.

True that.

Infographic love, for those who don’t get spring break

I am fully aware that, outside of the academic world, spring break isn’t a ‘thing’.

I feel like I really need this break, come the middle of March every year, and so I feel for those who can’t reset at this moment, before spring really comes to the Midwest, when we’re all ready for sunshine and some extra sleep.

I can’t deliver you spring break, but I can share the next best thing (?):

Some great infographics.

Because who doesn’t love a good infographic, even more than a day on the beach?

You’re welcome.

And I’m sorry.

Bolder Advocacy’s Map of advocacy wins on GLBT rights: Check out the pins, where you can see photos and learn more about each victory. Maybe it’s more an interactive map than an infographic, but it’s cool. Spring break or no, we’re #winning!

If Kansas poverty was a city: This sobering figure comes from good friends at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. The statistics suck, but the infographic is powerful.

Economic Policy Institute figure on attacks on American labor standards: I consider myself fairly well-informed, but a lot of this went past me. If we don’t pay attention to how the rules of the game, so to speak, are changing, we don’t stand a chance at reversing the trends of eroding worker well-being. These laws matter, for the people we serve and for the future of our nation.

Social Work Salary Guide: I receive quite a few unsolicited pieces that organizations want me to use for my blog. Some of the content is good, but I tend to be a little skeptical, and I certainly don’t want to load this site up with content from the private universities or job search services that tend to gravitate here. But this salary guide seemed like it might be of interest to folks, so I’m linking to it here.

Do you have infographics you’re loving right now, that you’re willing to share?

If they’re awesome, I’ll even look at them from vacation. OK, I promise, no more spring break talk.

Just have a great week next week, wherever you are.

List o’ Inspiration

To close out Inspiration Week, here is a list of some tidbits that I’ve been hanging onto, which I’m hoping you might find uplifting, as we embrace (or at least, stumble through) this new year. Of course, I’m crowdsourcing, too–please share your inspirations (images, quotes, facts) for 2014, too!

  • Study finds that students learn more from non-tenure track professors–affirmation, for me, of my decision not to pursue my PhD and full-time academic life
  • From Bolder Advocacy, Lobbying Lessons from Diana Nyad (who is an inspiration herself)
  • Missouri advocates for tax and budget equity sustained Governor Nixon’s veto of a drastic tax cut bill last summer, and now they’re gearing up for campaigns for progressive revenue policies in Missouri, with messages about how we get the government (and services) we’re willing to fund–awesome.
  • Building Movement Project’s invigorated blog, mostly written by the dynamic (and generous and kind) Executive Director, Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, which had this post on direct service organizations using the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (and associated outreach) as an opportunity for movement-building. A thousand times, yes.
  • Bolder Advocacy’s continued, exemplary, essential efforts to support nonprofit advocacy, like this ‘checklist’ for community foundations to assess their support for advocacy
  • MomsRising’s incredible advocacy–here, there’s so much to love: the identification of a somewhat unlikely advocacy target (the Department of Labor, on pay gaps) and action request (better data with which to understand the scope of the pay gap problem)

Your inspirations?

We’re going to need them!

Borrowing from the kids: More Inspiration!


It’s still Inspiration Week here, before we turn our eyes to the serious challenges awaiting us in 2014 (and, yes, that’s coming–I’ve been working on posts for next week about inequality).

But, today, even though it’s not Thanksgiving and it’s not even Sarah Hale’s birthday, I’m writing about my favorite children’s book: Thank You, Sarah.

Because, see, I think we can all use some reminding in this new year, that these are not the first hard times. Instead, Sarah Hale did her advocacy during the period leading up to and during the Civil War–unarguably even more divisive than today’s budget battles.

And we are not the first to feel overburdened by life and inconvenienced by the need to advocate for our most cherished ideals. She had five children and no dishwasher, for crying out loud.

What she had was her ‘secret weapon’, a pen.

And being ‘bold and brave and stubborn and smart’, which I’m really, really hoping someone will put on my tombstone.

I love the pictures of Sarah writing letters by candlelight while her kids sleep.

And the part where my daughter always cheers, when “Lincoln said yes! Lincoln said yes!” (to making Thanksgiving a national holiday)

And how the book shows the waiting that is part of the advocacy process, too, an important reminder that we are not the first to struggle against our impatience, either.

If you need inspiration to face 2014’s problems, maybe it can be this: “never underestimate dainty little ladies”, with pens, and conviction.

Thank you, Sarah. We know we’re going to need it.

Awesome stories of awesomeness

Because, you know, it’s almost the end of the year–THIS year, of all things–and I feel like we could all use some awesomeness.

You’re welcome.

  • One of the organizations with which I have the distinct pleasure to work on advocacy is Harvesters, our regional food bank. They’re awesome in lots of ways–birthday parties to fight hunger, yes please!–but their public participation index is high on my list. They have developed concrete metrics by which they measure the extent to which their activities get people engaged in the cause of fighting hunger, in the firm belief that “you manage what you measure”. They do, and they do. And it’s awesome. They track volunteers responding to action alerts, people writing letters to the editor, pledge cards taken after public presentations, numbers of volunteer groups coming through, people sharing stories on their website. The bonus, of course, is that the process of collecting and sharing these data also encourages staff buy-in to the advocacy work, since they know that there will be monitoring and accountability. And celebration, because you have to applaud when you reach milestones like these!
  • Recently, the League of Women Voters in our community set up a meeting at Operation Breakthrough, a fantastic organization (another advocacy TA grantee with which I get to work!) that provides early childhood education to children and support to low-income families (mostly single parents, many of whom are homeless and/or on TANF and/or involved with the child welfare system). The League wanted to talk with moms about the issues that matter most to them, what they wish they knew about the political process, and what they want public officials to understand about their lives. And, then, the League offered to pay the membership dues for any Operation Breakthrough mom who wanted to join, and they offered to help with transportation to meetings, hold events onsite at OB, and provide childcare to facilitate the participation of any Operation Breakthrough parent in a League event. Yeah, talk about understanding that the personal is political and that the women’s movement needs to embrace solidarity across class divides. And walking your walk. Awesomeness, and nothing more than I’d expect from an organization with a long history of being on the right side.
  • An organization combating homelessness locally, and providing support to those experiencing it, took clients with them to lobby state legislators for increased funding for affordable housing initiatives. On the bus on the way to Jefferson City, reStart, Inc. staff gave clients copies of legislative bios, pulled from the state webpage, as sort of background information (and a way to kill the 2.5-hour drive). During one of the first visits, the Executive Director watched as a client smoothly shook hands with a state legislator with whom the organization has never had a great relationship, made some small talk, asked about his two children, and transitioned seamlessly into discussing the toll that being without permanent housing takes on child well-being. The legislator was animated, personable, and responsive. Because the client was authentic, warm, and very skilled. The Executive Director told this story recently with a bit of a chuckle. Because, she said, it just makes sense. If our clients are used to navigating systems to get their needs met every day, why do we think they’d be anything but excellent at making connections and getting what they want as lobbyists? Why, indeed. Awesome.

What is awesome in your world, today, or throughout this year?

What awesomeness can you share, as we face 2014?

Asking the right questions

Building Movement Project’s second report in the 5% shift series was “Asking Powerful Questions”, and this one featured reStart, Inc., one of my advocacy technical assistance clients and an organization doing tremendous work to engage volunteers more deeply as cause ambassadors, using questions to provoke their thinking about what causes social problems and how we can combat them together.

I have always championed asking many, many more questions–maybe because I spend so much time with young children, who never let concern about how others might view them (or who might get tired of answering) stand in the way of asking all of the questions that come into their minds.

Their most frequent question, and the one that is most important for social justice advocates, I think, is “why?” (followed, of course, by “why not?”)

And reStart, Inc. asks ‘why’ a lot.

Why are people homeless? Why do we fail to fund programs that work? Why are so many people with mental illnesses on the streets? Why has homelessness among families worsened?

But, critically, they ask these questions not just among themselves, bemoaning their challenges or even analyzing data–they ask these questions as a form of engagement, a way to bring volunteers over to the ‘we’ side of the equation, part of the team that, together, will end homelessness, while they also serve those experiencing it.

This shift, befitting the series, didn’t require massive infusion of new resources, or new staff people, or even much more time.

It’s just that, now, instead of seeing volunteers primarily as a task to manage or a resource to exploit, reStart approaches them as co-creators of social change, and asks the questions that, collectively, invite volunteers to build that world together.

What questions do you ask? To whom? And what are you not asking that you think you should?

Inspiration from, and for, the commons

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

But, around this time of year, I always feel like I could use a little extra inspiration.

And, so, in the interest of finishing 2013 strong, I’m sharing some of my favorite social justice-related quotes, and hoping that you’ll share yours, too.

I was 7 years old when I received my first book of Bartlett’s quotations, as a birthday present, because I have always been fascinated by words–how they move people, and how we organize them.

I still collect them, not so much for who said a particular phrase, but for the glimpses of insight–new or just repackaged–that they offer.

Stay awhile, be inspired, and, then, leave your own mark.

  • “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.” ― Ernesto Guevara
    This one reminds me of Sister Berta, the tireless advocate for children in poverty who started Operation Breakthrough, here in Kansas City. In a meeting earlier this year, she pounded the table and demanded to know why there isn’t more outrage about what poor children endure in our community. I didn’t have an answer, and I still don’t, but I know that she inspires me to get angry, all the time.

  • “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
    I posted a photo of this from the FDR Memorial this summer. It’s as true now as then.

  • “An educator should consider that he has failed in his job if he has not succeeded in instilling some trace of a divine dissatisfaction with our miserable social environment. ” ― Anthony Standen
    I discovered this one during an Internet search for something else, and I think it’s sort of my new professional mission statement. We cannot adjust to injustice.

  • “In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.” ― Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House
    I love this. I love the hopefulness of it, the resolute sense that we must persevere even when we don’t know when or how good may come. I love the recognition of the role of serendipity. I love that we are both social workers.

  • “Every good law or case you study was once a dream. Every good law or case you study was dismissed as impossible or impractical for decades before it was enacted. Give your creative thoughts free reign, for it is only in the hearts and dreams of people seeking a better world that true social justice has a chance. Finally, remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we do not love ourselves, we will be hard pressed to love others. If we are not just with ourselves, we will find it very difficult to look for justice with others. In order to become and remain a social justice advocate, you must live a healthy life. Take care of yourself as well as others. Invest in yourself as well as in others. No one can build a house of justice on a foundation of injustice. Love yourself and be just to yourself and do the same with others. As you become a social justice advocate, you will experience joy, inspiration and love in abundant measure.” ― Bill Quigley
    I had to look him up, I liked this so much. The first part is my favorite: every social program we now take for granted first existed only in someone’s imagination. We should be dreaming bigger dreams, people.

What’s on a sticky note affixed to your computer? Or taped on the wall by your bed? Or on a magnet on your refrigerator?


…for summer vacations, for the legacy of those who have gone before, and for the opportunity to help raise the next generation of champions for justice.

And, as promised, elusive photos of my incredible kids, here on the Internet. Spreading the thankfulness.

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On the capitol steps in Montgomery. It was here that a reporter who had been following Dr. King turned to his companion and said, “I really think they’re going to win this thing.”

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Timeline of the civil rights movement

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In front of Dr. King’s church in Montgomery

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And the Greyhound station where Freedom Riders were attacked

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On the Freedom Trail between Selma and Montgomery: grateful for a husband who stopped at every.single.marker

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16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I’ve been before, but not as a mother. I cannot comprehend the agony of those parents.

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“We ain’t afraid of your jails.” And they weren’t. Incredible.

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Taking the time to be frightened, and to imagine their fear and appreciate their courage

Families modeling service, seeking justice

I have kids celebrating birthdays today, which means it’s a very family-focused day around here.

So I thought that I’d take this opportunity to share some inspiring stories of families showing their children why serving others matters, and, more importantly, how to do it. I’m always looking for examples, and for ideas of how we can volunteer together as a family.

We raise money for projects quite often–Sam had a lemonade stand to support agricultural assistance to farmers in Africa last year–and we give ‘alternative’ gifts for every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and for Christmas and other occasions, too. We have packed food at our local food bank, and we have done voter registration and community awareness activities, too.

For me, as a parent, the messaging matters.

Volunteering isn’t something we go to do for other people, because we pity them or because we have something they lack, even.

It’s something we do because we’re part of a connected world, and because it’s how we live consistently with our values and give ourselves the opportunity to connect meaningfully with the larger society.

The cliche, of course, is that volunteers ‘get as much as they give’, but, for me, it’s not about how good I feel when we help, it’s about what I’m doing to cultivate the kind of kids I want to raise.

Those who serve because they crave justice, I hope.

Because it’s my kids’ birthday, if anyone wants to gift us some great ideas of how children can volunteer–organizations renowned for working collaboratively with our youngest servant advocates, or inspiring models–we would be grateful.

And, on this special day at my house, a toast to family–that which lives within our walls, and that which surrounds us, in all humanity.

It only takes one

Helene Jacobs, from the German Resistance Memorial Center

Helene Jacobs, from the German Resistance Memorial Center

So, yes, I was that person reading about Nazi Germany at the beach.

It’s sort of how I roll.

Specifically, I read The Forger, a short memoir about a young Jewish man who survived in wartime Berlin in large part due to his skills as a graphic artist (he forged documents that helped to save the lives of other Jews, hence the title) and his brazen daring.

But also the kindness and courage and generosity of Helene Jacobs, now officially honored for her sacrifices, who gave up her engagement because her fiance supported the Nazis and then sheltered the protagonist, Cioma Schonhaus, during the war.

And afterwards, when his entire family had been slaughtered in Nazi camps, he reflected that he could still survive and, indeed, could still keep going every day largely because his relationship with this one German counteracted the brutality leveled by so many.

Knowing Helene Jacobs and seeing her goodness and selflessness inoculated him, in some ways, against the bitterness and hatred that would be–still today–so completely understandable.

And, so, while I’ve never been a ‘starfish’ person, never bought into the ‘power of one’, all that much, because I believe in building movements and changing systems…

it made me think.

When can we be that one?

Not trying to change the world on our own.

Not contenting ourselves with providing salves against the injustice and destruction that characterizes so much of our world.

But just interacting with others in such ways that we can restore their faith and hope, at the moments when they need it most, and being beacons of decency in a world that can use a lot more of it.

Because if Ms. Jacobs could single-handedly not only save a life but sustain that light, in the midst of so much darkness,

can’t we?