Tag Archives: politics

Why direct practice will always matter

Lyndon Johnson was no social worker.

But it is a speech of his, or rather a section of one, made on March 15, 1965, one week after the march in Selma, Alabama that drew the nation’s attention to the urgency of the struggle for racial justice, that, for me, best highlights why it is so critical that policymakers, in any profession, be rooted in the lives of those who will be most touched by the policies they create.

Towards the end of his speech outlining for Congress his vision for The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which remains, in 2010, an essential piece of civil rights legislation and one of the core victories of the African-American struggle for equality, he said:

“My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.

Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

I never thought, then, in 1928, that I would be standing here, in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.

But now I do have that chance–and I’ll let you in on a secret–I mean to use it.

And I hope that you will use it with me.”

We will not all become President, certainly, nor wield the kind of power that Lyndon Johnson did at his peak, but we can cultivate positions of power and authority in our pursuit of social justice, in the expectation that we will, too, someday have the chance to do great things on behalf of those who have touched our lives by allowing us to walk with them.

Failing to seek that power gives up that chance. And it’s inexcusable.

As is forgetting those faces once we’re in a position to do something to help them.

And, for all his many, many failings, that’s something Lyndon Johnson, the teacher and the President, can help us remember.

Our third branch needs some pruning: Why social workers should be very worried about the Supreme Court

It’s the first Monday in October.


Yes, folks, the U.S. Supreme Court session starts today.

And, the truth is, our country could be in a worse position, on many of the core social justice issues that matter to social workers and those we serve, when they finish the term.

There’s some scary stuff happening in the Supreme Court these days, and, while I know that even keeping track of legislative activity requires a lot of our very limited time, social workers need to understand the implications of what these nine men and women (many more men, of course, than women) do in that beautiful building in Washington, DC.

The always-awesome Alliance for Justice has produced two excellent reports analyzing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, not only for their own, individual impact on the civil rights and critical liberties afforded to Americans, but also for the trends they represent, and what this trajectory within the judiciary might mean for some of the still-unresolved legal questions of our time.

While the campaign finance ruling earlier this year attracted widespread attention (and much criticism, but, then, they don’t have to pay attention to that (reason #1001 why I SO want to be on the Supreme Court)), AFJ outlines several other broad patterns in decisions that should alarm, and even outrage, those of us committed to social justice and fervently believing in the court as an essential part of the governmental system which should deliver it.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is accepting more business-related cases than in previous terms, and siding more with corporate interests, giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce its greatest winning percentage in decades.
  • Several decisions have restricted the reach of environmental legislation, undoing some legislative attempts to address the most concerning aspects of environmental degradation.
  • In another pro-corporate set of decisions, the Court opened the door for renewed age and sex discrimination in the workplace, which obviously stands in stark contrast to social work’s fervent opposition to discriminatory practices.
  • In the case that bothers me the most, both because of what it suggests about the vulnerability of some of our most vaunted judicial victories and because of the sheer tragedy of it, in 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court essentially overturned Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that separate could, in fact, be equal, and that voluntary school desegregation plans, on the other hand, were not.

    It’s a good thing, I still believe, that there’s no real way to directly pressure U.S. Supreme Court justices to see issues “our” way, or to be more responsive to public concerns about such issues as women’s rights and environmental protection. If the Supreme Court had listened to the mood of the American people, we would not have seen such critical decisions as Brown v. Board when we did. I’m much less apt to decry “judicial activism” than most, too, because I can see some reaching in some of the decisions that have provided fundamental protections on issues about which I care very much.

    We need an independent judiciary, even when we don’t like the direction of that same judiciary.

    But, we also need a reminder, sometimes, that elections matter. And that national elections, particularly for President and the Senate, matter far more than just what the composition of Congress will look like for that term, or who will occupy the White House for the next four years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s future is very much intertwined with the future of our profession, as questions about the constitutional rights of GLBT individuals, the limits of corporate power in this global economy, protections afforded minorities, and the workings of and access to the judicial system itself are likely to be argued in the years to come.

    If we want this first Monday in October to be worthy of celebration, as I believe we must, we’ve got work to do on Election Day, this year and in 2012.

  • Elections matter (aka “If they can do it in Rwanda”)

    If I had a dollar for every time, while registering voters, someone had said to me, “it doesn’t matter who wins, they’re all the same”…well, I’d still be sitting here writing this blog post, honestly, but I would have given away more money last year and I’d be drinking the larger size Diet Dr. Pepper. I have simple needs.

    But, seriously, social workers are often guilty of this “they’re all the same” mentality when it comes to elected officials, too. And I can understand it, really. On many issues that we care about, there is not that much difference between the views of ‘mainstream’ members of the two major U.S. political parties, and it’s easy to see our issues pushed entirely off the agenda and conclude that all of that electoral work was for naught.

    But, now, we have some data that can actually demonstrate that who’s in office CAN make a difference, at least if that who is a woman. Below, I’ve uploaded two publicly-available academic studies that document, empirically, the difference that increasing the density of women elected officials in local communities. Interestingly, the same effects are not found for women elected to higher posts; there is some speculation that this is because of the corrupting effects of the accummulation of sufficient power to mount a national campaign (note for U.S. activists, too?).

    These studies found that, when a change to the Indian constitution required that one third of villages (chosen randomly) have the position of chief reserved for women, spending priorities and governance processes were markedly different in the villages with female chiefs: more water pumps and taps, fewer bribes, and better overall infrastructure (as a side note, can a researcher imagine a better set up than random distribution like this? truly manna from heaven). You can read the studies for yourself.

    Then check out the story of Rwanda, which I really knew nothing about until I read Half the Sky (you remember that–it’s the book that you all read last fall! 🙂 As of September 2008, Rwanda became the first country in the world with a majority of female legislators. The constitution requires that women make up at least 30% of Parliament; partially because of necessity (after the 1994 genocide, women are 70% of the population) and partially because the population saw electing more women as a sort of safeguard against a reprise of that horrific violence. Once women were elected, voters lost some of their reluctance to elect more, and, as a result, Rwanda is now hailed by many observers as one of the best-governed, most economically promising countries in Africa and, indeed, in the developing world.

    And, here’s my New Favorite Thing: Women’s Campaign International. This is a global organization dedicated to helping grassroots women leaders run for office, win elections, and serve effectively. It fulfills this mission by providing technical assistance and capacity building to local women’s organizations, supporting advocacy and grassroots campaigning, and directly increasing women’s incomes through entrepreneurial strategies. They include the U.S. and our rather dismal representation of women in politics nationally as part of their concern, and their website has a blog with current news and some exciting success stories.

    Check them out and, then, find a woman candidate locally whom you can support. Ask her how you can help–fundraising, publicity, issue research, voter contacts…hey, watch her kids or clean her house so she can get more campaigning in. Or run for office yourself! Social workers have been highly effective members of local, state, and federal government throughout our profession’s history, and we have an important role to play today. This is the beginning of a critical election year, and we have a lot of work to do between now and the spring local elections, summer primaries, and November general election.

    Just think, if they can do it in Rwanda…

    Top 10 Things we should be paying attention to in 2010

    Photo credit, NYClovesNY, via Flickr Creative Commons

    So, yes, I realize that, for the past month, everywhere you’ve looked, you’ve seen lists. Highlight lists, ‘best of’ lists, trend lists, lists, lists, lists. Lists looking backward, and lists looking forward. Lists for everything.

    Well, this is the list for things that, for the most part, aren’t making any of those lists. The list of the Top 10 Things we SHOULD be paying attention to in 2010, but aren’t, with a little commentary on what we’re paying attention to instead.

    We know that there’s only so much “room” on the agenda. And there are some big things taking up a lot of that space right now: climate change, health care reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    And those issues are, absolutely, very, very important.

    But they’re not the only important issues we face today. By a long shot.

    And, so, I bring you my totally unscientific, admittedly biased list of the Top 10 Things that we Should be Paying Attention to in 2010, but are not (yet). These are in no particular order, but I’d certainly welcome your comments about those two or three that you find most pressing. And, of course, the dozens that I’ve left out, including those that you think belong on such a list more than those that I included! A caveat: this is a “domestic” list–I haven’t included many things that are vitally important on the world scene and deserve more attention than they’re receiving: democracy in Russia, global literacy, the political crisis in Honduras, the debacle that is our ongoing drug war in Latin America. Maybe that will be next year’s post, since I’m sure (wink, wink) that this list will jumpstart a ton of movement on these issues within the United States.

    Part of our challenge as social justice champions, I believe, is figuring out how to create room on the agenda for some of these concerns without detracting from those “big ticket” items that do deserve our attention (because, of course, there are a lot of things soaking up space in the public’s mind that DO NOT deserve our attention, but that’s a whole other post). The key, perhaps, is in pointing out what will be obvious to many of you in even skimming this list: that many of these issues are linked in multiple causation to the issues that are front and center on the agenda, in some cases, in ways that could suggest alternative approaches to tackling those problems that have already found a space.

  • Political redistricting: While it may seem that it would be impossible to draw the legislative maps (nationally and within many states) any more illogically and transparently partisan than they already are, that is, in fact, what some political operatives are planning for the redistricting process to follow the 2010 Census. There are some folks paying attention at the national level, but the process is starting here in Kansas, too, with committees named to begin the deliberations. The outcome will determine, to a large extent, not only who can be elected in a given district, but also, perhaps more importantly, how young people and new voters will interface with the electoral process, since nothing discourages civic engagement like having an election essentially decided long before Election Day.
  • Tuition hikes in higher education: Tuition prices are increasing at institutions around the country, scholarships and financial aid are declining, and students, perhaps more than others in the social policy sphere, recognize the implication–higher education is poised to become, again, an elusive rite for only those with significant personal fortunes to sink into the prospect. The potential impact on the social work profession is especially dire, as we unequivocally cannot afford to become a profession even more out-of-touch with those we serve.
  • School segregation: As you know, I’m very concerned about the entrenched nature of school segregation in this nation. But, today, with all of the focus on public education directed at No Child Left Behind or, overwhelmingly, the impact of serious budget cuts on classroom resources, few policymakers or even social justice advocates seem to be talking much about the inherent wrong of having children of different races go to different schools. I don’t know whether busing or intense resources for housing desegregation, or a radical shift in the way we fund public schools, or some of all of the above, is the answer, but I know that we don’t want to be the nation we will be if this status quo continues.
  • Long-term care: Yes, there’s a ton of talk about health care, but very little of it relates to long-term care. There are almost no substantial long-term care reforms in the health care legislation, despite the fact that long-term care eats up ever-increasing portions of Medicaid, long-term care costs can easily bankrupt older adults, and few Baby Boomers have made provision for their long-term care needs. Again, I don’t know what the answer is, but with an aging population, we have to carve out some room in the discussion about “productive aging” to deal with the reality that many older people get sick or develop disabilities and, when they do, we need a coherent and adequate system to take care of them.
  • Prison conditions: I would say that I am fairly appalled and alarmed by the conditions in most U.S. prisons. It seems like every week or so I hear something awful, about serious overcrowding (especially in California) that threatens the life and safety of those incarcerated (and, of course, their jailers), or just atrocious conditions that in no way prepare people for success after they leave prison. I know that there are few target populations less sympathetic than prisoners, but I also know that we lock up a lot of people in this country, and most of them get out at some point, and (very compelling human rights arguments aside) there are some very important reasons that we should all care about how they’re treated while they’re in.
  • Creeping exploitative free-trade agreements: Even some of the most die-hard free trade proponents can’t argue that the North American Free Trade Agreement has brought what it promised (um, an “end to illegal immigration”, anyone?). Yet the policy under the Bush Administration was to pursue expanded free trade agreements, first throughout Central America, and then on an ad-hoc basis with countries around the world, after the Free Trade Area of the Americas was derailed. So far, the Obama Administration, despite some campaign rhetoric about fair trade, hasn’t made changing trade policy much of a priority. But if we’re going to address human rights, moderate migration, stem rising global poverty, and stop massive U.S. job loss, we’ve got to write trade agreements that prioritize values other than maximum profit for powerful corporate interests. We need a fair trade agenda, and we need it like 30 years ago.
  • Rising global food prices: One of the most tragic paradoxes of this current recession has been the increase in food prices, even as prices for many other goods (and, of course, wages) have fallen. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, including the impact of climate change on agriculture, rising demand for biofuels, speculation in agricultural markets, population growth, and increasing urbanization. Inflation in food markets is not, of course, just a matter of idle consideration. People, especially children, starve to death when food prices increase dramatically. Especially if they increase while wages fall. Especially if trade agreements (see above) are structured so that those benefitting the most from the increases don’t live in the same countries where people are mostly hungry.
  • School board and Secretary of State races: From the profound to the seemingly banal, I know, but I keep wondering how many times I’m going to have to (very nicely, I think) ask people to please pay attention to who’s running for Secretary of State and school board (local and state levels) in their jurisdictions. What if I say “pretty please”? Remember the role of the Florida Secretary of State in the 2000 Presidential election? Remember how that one turned out? Here in Kansas, we have our own, very important, Secretary of State’s race. And school board races are always tremendously important, not only as the battleground in which decisions about sex, money, religion, and the future of our nation (you know, minor things) are fought out, but also as the launching pad of many elected officials who eventually obtain higher office. Most states will have at least one of these elections in 2010, and advocates for social justice need to show up, as candidates, volunteers, and voters.
  • Pro-parent social policy reforms: Yes, I’m a mom. And, yes, that probably drives a lot of my thinking about social policy related to parents. But it was really my volunteering at the Christmas Bureau over the holidays that reignited my thinking on this. For the most part, the people I helped were pretty extraordinary parents–working, sometimes two jobs, often by single parents, and very, obviously, totally committed to their kids. And I reflected on how very little we do as a country to validate and support their role as parents. I mean, we have children’s policies and family policies, but really very little attention to parents and their needs as parents. I haven’t fleshed out all that pro-parent policy would include, but good maternity and paternity policies would be a start; followed by flexible leave; publicly-supported emergency childcare and respite services; and meaningful child support enforcement. Raising kids is really, really hard. And there are a lot of parents working really hard at it. Instead of assuming that what everyone needs is a parenting class, we need to find ways to invest in parents’ potential.
  • The corrosive effects of ballot measures: So, yes, I save the most controversial for last. I know that I’ll hear from some “power-to-the-people” folks who think that everyone should have a right to vote on everything, but I just don’t agree. I’m tired of seeing that one state or another has passed another horrible referendum on gay marriage, or some terribly short-sighted tax limitation, or some disguised attack on Affirmative Action (“civil rights initiative”, anyone?). We have elected representatives because they are supposed to decide the hard policy questions facing our nation, and we certainly have a role to play in making that happen (including electing people we think likely to make wise decisions on our behalf). But popular sovereignty was the wrong path in 1861, and it’s largely the wrong one today. We need state-by-state reform of the laws governing the use of the ballot measure, and then we need to redouble our efforts in legislative advocacy in support of progressive policy reforms.

    Thoughts? What would you add? What would you take off? What would ‘move the needle’ on any of these issues? What role can/should social work play?

  • The voices, votes, and value of nonprofit organizations

    I love it when I come across a scrawled notation in one of my notebooks that, upon examination, turns out to be something pretty awesome.

    This is an example of that.

    From some notes I took in a meeting with our local chapter of Nonprofit Connect (formerly Council on Philanthropy) in September, I found “V3 Campaign” and the url. I visited the site yesterday, and found that it’s a national effort to: “make the voice of the social enterprise and non-profit movement heard, its value realized, and its votes counted in EVERY election.” Hurrah!

    So the goal, as they state it, is “to develop a new generation of political leaders who understand the economic contributions of social service organizations, who recognize the potential of social enterprise and micro-credit to reinvigorate communities and who include the sector in their plans to rebuild the economy.” They do this through a three-fold strategy (hence the V3 name): using data to demonstrate the value that nonprofit organizations add to the economy (they, like many of us, are struggling with the term to use to define this sector, exactly), to help nonprofits understand how to make their voices heard in the political process (including advocacy, nonpartisan voter work, and media campaigns), and getting nonprofits engaged in direct electoral work, to the extent allowed by law.

    They’re using videos, candidate questionnaires, fact sheets, and coordinated candidate forums to do this, and they take a long view: that by exerting the social change sector as a voting bloc, we can, over time, influence who is elected and, therefore, change public policies that impact our organizations and the people we serve.

    The impact of the project is far from known at this point–they’ve got a 10-year timeline, and it’s a new effort. And it remains to be seen if V3 can get nonprofits as energized about the core social and economic (and political!) issues we address as we often are about our own survival–yet it’s precisely those issues that we most need elected officials to address; we’re in the social change business, not the nonprofit sustainability one.

    But, still, I’m really hopeful. The vision behind V3 is Robert Egger of the DC Central Kitchen, an innovative and pretty inspirational social service organization. He gets this, and that bodes very well. And, truly, this is the first time that there has been an effort like this to translate the moral and economic weight of nonprofits into a political force. Even if it doesn’t totally succeed, that would not be failure.

    Visit V3. Sign up for updates. Send your elected officials questions about how they will respond to the needs served by the social service and social enterprise sectors. Register your nonprofit coworkers to vote. Host a candidate forum for the 2010 elections (they’ll be here before we know it!). Make your voice, vote, and value count.

    Behind the curtain: Obama for America’s New Media Triumph


    In spring 2008, one of my savvy students asked for part of our ‘open lecture’ during the Advanced Advocacy & Community Practice course (I left one week open for students to request content related to skills/themes that they had particular interest in or wanted to develop more, in preparation for practice) to be dedicated to discussing the successes of the then-Barack Obama campaign in the area of technology and grassroots organizing.

    Now, with the advantage of hindsight, I thought I’d mark the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s election with some thoughts about how that campaign changed how political campaigns in the future will use social media and other emerging technologies and, more importantly, the lessons for any community organizer/aspiring activist that can be culled from an evaluation of Obama for America’s efforts.

    Helpfully, some of the folks that ran the new media components of Obama for America worked with independent consultants to prepare a report that attempts to quantify and describe the return on investment of various components of that strategy and (thanks to having a former community organizer for a President?) draw conclusions for nonprofit advocacy organizations.

    Even a year out, it’s still pretty amazing to reflect on what Obama for America was able to do–an email list of 13 million people? More than $500,000,000 raised online? They’re careful to offer the caveat that, of course, Barack Obama had something to do with that success (not exactly replicable by every nonprofit organization!), but there’s a lot that’s tremendously helpful here. It’s worth reading, and it includes examples of email texts, screen captures, and other archival material that illustrates their key points.

  • Email, email, email. I have to admit, I’ve bought into some of the hype that email is overrated (because it is so vulnerable to spam, and many people don’t read mass-generated emails), but it is clear that the Obama operation viewed collection and exploitation of email addresses as the central task of all of their online activity. They raised most of their money and recruited most of their volunteers through email. They deployed thousands of volunteers at mass events to collect emails, and they turned those emails into volunteers and ongoing donors. I am convinced.
  • Online organizing does not replace old-fashioned grassroots door knocking. The core campaign folks emphasized that the field program deserves much credit for the victory; those relationships and 1:1 conversations still matter very, very much. They had 4000 paid organizers on the ground, plus many volunteers, and that made a huge difference. Still, it’s worth noting that HALF A BILLION of the dollars that paid for those field organizers came from online, which is not an insignificant contribution.
  • Test, measure, adjust. They used analytics to test everything: language on emails, the color of the ‘donate’ button, whether that button actually said ‘donate’ or ‘learn more’ or ‘join us’, which picture of Obama generated the most response, whose signature was most popular, etc… and they ditched what wasn’t working as well and switched to higher-yield tactics. So smart.
  • Use video and images to tell your story. OK, so ‘our story’ isn’t necessarily quite as compelling as ‘elect Barack Obama’, but it’s still important, and how we tell it matters. They made a point of using video to highlight those in the movement, not to just push Obama as a product, and this increased views and drove people to volunteer. Their YouTube content (official campaign stuff only) generated the equivalent of $46.9 million in paid advertising exposure. For very little money.
  • Be nimble. One of the main advantages of new media is that we can use it to respond rapidly, to changing events or new information or a rumor or whatever. But we lose that advantage if everything has to be vetted through 2 Board committees and a lawyer on retainer and so on. We can scoop traditional news by producing our own content, but only if we get it out there quickly.
  • We need to be disciplined in our communication. Make sure that your writing is excellent, and stay on message. Maintain a narrative arc across appeals, be concise, be personal, embed graphics and video for impact. Only send what is of value to your audience (no, your prospective donors don’t want to know which Disney princess you’re most like…). Invite people in to a conversation. Be authentic. Stay on message (still). They found that they could send up to three emails per day if they were well-crafted; nonprofit organizations in the middle of an urgent campaign could likely increase their frequency too, if we maintain quality.
  • Online advertising works. The Obama campaign had three times the return on investment for their Google advertising. **Watch next week for a post on Google grants to see how you can get that same kind of advertising for free!** They particularly had success with interactive ads, like the ‘calculate your tax cut’ calcuator.
  • Give people something they value. People used the vote for change voter registration tool to download voter registration applications, and then Obama for America captured those email addresses and used them for GOTV.
  • There is tremendous potential in mobile text messaging to reach those who are not online, but this tactic is still undeveloped, and technology impedes full utilization (because of costs associated with receiving texts). This is an area, like Twitter and Facebook, that have evolved considerably even in the past year.

    The conclusion of the report reiterates that virtual field organizing is no substitute for ‘boots on the ground’ work, but rather a supplement that can add significant value when strategically implemented.

    And that brings me to my final point, that electioneering is no substitute for old-fashioned agitation. The saying is that we only get the government we deserve–many people worked hard to elect Barack Obama president. Now, if we want to live up to the promise, we have to keep working just as hard to ensure that we earn the victories we deserve on the many critical issues facing our country.

    Consider your rearview mirrors adjusted, and let’s move forward.

  • On privilege and leadership: Que viva Kennedy

    So, I know that blogs and traditional media outlets have been inundated with coverage of Senator Ted Kennedy’s life, public service, and death. Certainly many who knew his work and life much better than I have provided ample tribute and considerable analysis.

    I just have two things to add.

    I remember a rally for immigrant rights on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building, listening to him speak and then to the rather amazing (it still brings tears to my eyes) sound of thousands of immigrants, most of whom spoke English as their second language, shouting “Kennedy” in a dozen different accents. Most didn’t know much about his family, or his legacy, but they knew what they heard and what they sensed: that, here, was a public official who wasn’t talking about ‘touchbacks’ or ‘guest workers’. He was talking about ‘justice’ and ‘America’ and ‘rights.’ That’s my first reflection on his role; at least from my encounters with him and with his office, while he was quite a pragmatic politician, he also had an understanding of his power, his electoral invincibility, and the freedom and responsibility that they bestowed on them. It was the only speech I can remember during my campaigns with immigrants hearing a member of Congress speak (in English, at least) about immigrants the same way that immigrants speak about, and to, themselves. It was pretty uncensored, and, to a community deluged with negative attacks and half-hearted ‘help’, it was renewing, invigorating, and redeeming. It was like a gift that he knew he could give to us, one that we very much needed. He did it again, later, on a conference call during some of the ugly negotiations over legislation, negotiations in which he central. He reminded us of the horrible stories he heard during hours talking with survivors of the New Bedford, MA ICE raids, and reminded us that that’s why we were in this fight, and he pitched himself as our ally in that struggle. When he left the call, there was an audible exhale and some nervous laughter, letting off steam. We were restored to fight on. That, to me, is about understanding your power and privilege and using it for good. Unpacking it, so you can exploit it. And it’s inspiring.

    My other memory of Senator Kennedy was in a town hall-type event on immigration. He made a point of shaking the hands of several of the immigrant kids who were there with us, including one that had come with me. She asked me about him later–who he was and why he cared. In talking to her, I was struck about how much his life was not about the American Dream of ‘anyone can be a leader’ but a lot more about the idea that some have special responsibility to lead, and what it means to live that weight. And we talked about the scandal that had touched his life and career, about how he had almost thrown away his place in politics. And she was quite comfortable with the idea that, as she put it, we’re all human, and it’s what we do to make up for our mistakes that distinguishes us much more than making them in the first place. And I thought about that this week, when he is remembered much more for the good that he has done with his legislative career than for the tragedy of Chappaquiddick, even though that tragedy echoes still. If we hold that only those public figures without flaw are worthy of revere, then we’re, by extension, excusing from courageous service all of us who are flawed. We can’t afford to bench that many of our allies. We need accountability, we need transparency, we need honesty, but we also need space for redemption. In my memory, the student’s brow furrowed for a minute upon hearing the story, and then she returned her gaze to watching Senator Kennedy embrace immigrant families, nodding as she watched good decisions atone for the past.

    We obviously can’t all be Kennedys, but we can all leave our mark–using the power that we accummulate as a force for good, refusing to be sidelined by the mistakes we’ve made, living up to our destiny to lead even as we’re still creating it.

    My Two Cents: Health Care Reform and What I Did

    I heard a great piece on The World tonight about the health care debate: specifically, they talked about how the controversy over the proposal(s) is receiving a lot more media attention than their substance (similarly to how media often cover the ‘horse race’ aspect of elections more than the issues) and about how Britains are using Twitter to defend their national health system. They also made the point that the UK’s NHS has become a straw man in the health care debate in the U.S.–its weaknesses exaggerated and then conflated with President Obama’s plans.

    After I got home, I sat down and wrote handwritten letters to my congressional delegation. I’ve been wanting to do more; I haven’t been to any town halls yet (if they think those are rowdy, try being a pro-immigrant advocate on an AM talk radio show!); I haven’t made any phone calls; I haven’t even talked about it that much with friends or colleagues. But, I pulled out some of my few remaining (totally awesome) Truman Scholar notecards (the ones with a painting of the Lincoln Memorial and a speech by RFK–the ones that I have now moved 5 times and can hardly bear to part with) and wrote letters.

    The text of each was different. To Congressman Moore, I stressed his concern for working people and the importance of seizing this rare political moment. To Senator Brownback, I talked about his respect for life and the importance of protecting each person’s health. And to Senator Roberts, I talked about how Kansas, and Kansans, need health care reform, in towns large and small. In all, I identified myself as a mom and a citizen and, honestly, someone with decent health care who still cares very much about what we are not doing for those who have not.

    Do I harbor any belief that these letters will be the defining act in the debate that is raging in our country? No. But do I feel a whole lot better now that they’re in the mail? And am I looking forward to explaining them to my son tomorrow morning? Absolutely yes.

    If you live in my part of the country, here are the addresses I used (the best ones for this August recess):

    Congressman Dennis Moore
    500 State Avenue, #176
    Kansas City, KS 66101

    Senator Sam Brownback
    11111 W. 95th Street, Suite 245
    Overland Park, KS 66214

    Senator Pat Roberts
    11900 College Boulevard, Suite 203
    Overland Park, KS 66210

    Melinda’s Blog Roll

    I definitely do not spend as much time as I would like keeping up with the excellent blogs out there regarding nonprofit advocacy, or at least containing content that is in some way helpful to nonprofit advocates. While I’ve not found anyone writing specifically about social work advocacy (which, really, is a big part of why I write this!), there are so many fantastic people putting forth good information and thought-provoking ideas that I could literally spend hours every day reading their stuff. Except, of course, that I have three kids to raise, a home to maintain, classes to teach, and organizations here to help. So, I take advantage of feed services to have digest versions of several delivered to my inbox and make a point of going through them at least a couple of times a week. Often, something there sparks an idea that leads to something new to include in a class lecture, an idea to try with an organization with which I’m working, or something that I want to share with you all here.

    And, while I of course hope that you’ll keep reading here (smile), I thought that some of you may want to see some of the other blogs that I read, so here’s a ‘highlight’ list/blogroll–this is a work in progress, and I expect that I’ll revisit this topic occasionally as I add more. I’d love to hear from others regarding the blogs that you make a point to read regularly, related to organizing or advocacy or nonprofits/social work in general. I’m always looking for new reading! What authors do you find most insightful? Have there been particular posts that you have enjoyed? I’m especially interested in any blogs from nonprofit/public interest lobbyists, because the few lobbying blogs out there are mostly from the perspective of more corporate-minded lobbyists.

    A. Fine Blog: Social media and social change

    Beth’s blog: Long-running blog on social media and nonprofits

    Have Fun Do Good: I’ll admit that I don’t get some of the popular culture references here, but it is a fresh approach to social change and a needed reminder that we have to make our work attractive if we expect others to join us.

    Kansas Jackass: They’re on hiatus right now, but this is one of my ‘leisure’ activities–very timely and often hilarious commentary on Kansas politics, from a progressive viewpoint

    Social Work Blogs: This isn’t a blog itself but a directory of social work-related blogs, and, while there is relatively little advocacy content on here, I find it a good place to check out what’s going on in the field and, me being me, to raise the advocacy banner with my fellow social workers!

    Rosetta Thurman: I SO wish that I actually knew her and that (maybe) she would be my friend…as it is, I just pretend, and read her commentary on nonprofit management, leadership, and young professionals’ roles in nonprofits’ futures. I’m so grateful to my friend and former boss, Ian Bautista, for pointing her out–I read her every day now.

    Happy reading, and don’t forget to share your links!