You See A Trump Administration Official In Public — Now What?

“Hi, I just want to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country,” Kristin Mink said to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt in a restaurant while hoisting her baby on her hip. “This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves water … We deserve to have someone at the EPA who actually does protect the environment. Someone who believes in climate change.”

Days later, Scott Pruitt resigned.

Taking direct action is effective. What makes this video so mesmerizing is how casually Kristin Mink strides up and speaks. Perhaps you think you can’t do this. But you can.

Here’s what to do if you see Trump administration officials in public:

1. To paraphrase my friend Susie, remember that they are YOUR government and accountable to YOU.

You have every right to speak to government officials — and expect a response — no matter what they are doing. In line at Target? Fair game. Eating at a restaurant? Go for it. Out at a swanky show on the town? You got it, friend.

2. Don’t worry about civility.

You can be firm and you can be polite, but if to be civil means to let an autocratic government attack a free press, rip families apart, decimate reproductive rights, destroy environmental protections, and embrace bald racism and nativism under our country’s flag — that kind of civility is actually just enabling, and nope, you don’t have to do that.

3. Assess where you are, who you have, and then start filming. 

Is a friend or family member with you? Decide who will record and who will speak. Are you by yourself? Grab your own phone and hold it up to record while you start talking. If you don’t record the interaction, it didn’t happen. You can put the video on Facebook Live if you are familiar with the tool, otherwise don’t worry about the program and record now to share later. Turn on the camera and keep it focused on them.

4. Walk up. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Your opportunity to speak truth to power may not last long. Do not let it slip you by. Your goal is not to be perfect. Your goal is to be a real human, which brings me to the next point:

5. Don’t worry about the finer points of policy or the right talking points or language. Speak from your heart.

Plain language is your friend. If I saw a Trump administration official right now, I’m not sure I’d have all the policy right, but I would feel confident speaking from my heart. “I have a little girl and I’m tired of having to turn down the radio because the president is using racial slurs.” “I’m scared about the direction the country is going in and I’m terrified about what is going to happen at the Supreme Court. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Speaking from your heart is perfect — you don’t need to be a commentator on TV. Be yourself, in the moment now. That is your moral authority.

6. Demand answers from them and go quiet strategically, keeping the camera on their face.

Keep asking your follow-up questions, but remember that the point of interacting is to make them answer TO YOU. If they start running away, move quickly after them, continuing to ask the question.

7. Once it’s over, post it online. 

Post the recording on social media, share it with people you know, and let people know how the interaction made you feel. By doing this work, you are making it more likely that others will feel comfortable confronting this corrupt, deathly administration.

Remember: You got this. Don’t let these opportunities fly by. You don’t need to be perfect. You have incredible power, just as you are, the moment you run into these folks.

 

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Ready For Change? Try Direct Action

As an activist, advocate, and leader for social change, one of my favorite places in the world to be is on the sidewalk, holding a sign. It is calming. I am focused. I feel closer to the equality and justice I seek.

Direct action is when we put our bodies directly on the line. It is physical demonstration. It is one of my happiest places. I came into the women’s movement twenty years ago as an activist, and while I’ve accumulated a number of experiences and skills that go far beyond activism, I will never stop being an activist in my core.

If you’ve never tried direct action before, I encourage you to give it a whirl.

Unlike online activism, which often devolves into talking with (or worse, at) each other rather than reaching out to new people, the debates are not about who has the right lingo or runs with the right activist crowd. While internal debates are important within the progressive movement, there is no time for them when we are directly confronting power.

Direct action in a group means standing together and reaching new people — people who usually have no idea that the particular injustices we are attempting to reverse are happening. We put unmistakeable pressure on others to make the world a better place, now. Direct action is not a polite whisper, although it needn’t be accompanied by loud chants. Direct action is a moment of clarity – it is an accelerant for change that can’t be ignored.

 

Hey, Feminists: If You Went To A Catholic College, Make Yourself A Visible Alum

Recently I learned that a colleague working in reproductive rights had graduated from the University of Notre Dame. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. “Stay active in your campus community,” I said. “You’ve got to do it.”

I am a proud alum of Georgetown University, which provided me an excellent education and foundation for the social justice work I do. I’ve made a point to stay active in the campus community over the years — interviewing prospective undergraduate students, serving on panels and at speed mentoring events facilitated by the career center, mentoring students through the Women’s Center, speaking to the H*yas for Choice unofficial student group, and providing direct financial support. I was very honored one year to serve as a judge for the Merrick Debate for the Philodemic Society. I have weighed in on a debate through the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affiars as to whether you can oppose abortion and be a feminist (spoiler alert: not possible!). Basically, anything they ask me to do, I will do it.

I have also undertaken activism with regard to my campus community. Every time I interact with H*yas for Choice, the group on campus which advocates for abortion rights, I give them a financial donation. Most times when I donate directly to the university, I will add notes about how I would donate more if student activities funds could be allocated to H*yas for Choice as well. Simply put, there are brilliant women at Georgetown who deserve to have their basic humanity respected.

I enjoy following the lead of the brave students of H*yas for Choice who are not officially recognized by the campus community and have had their rights trampled on by the university, as happened a few years ago when campus police removed them from tabling on a public sidewalk that was not university property. When that happened, I organized more than 200 alums to sign an open letter to the university president requesting that the situation be rectified to support free speech on (and in this case off) campus, which was met by an apology to the students and a formal explication of free speech rights on campus (and after which I gave the university the largest donation of my life).

I’m sharing this because if you attended a Catholic university and are a feminist, I’m asking you to remain engaged as an alum within your campus community. Students do not need us to lead their battles on campus — young people are inspiring and so fully capable — but it is helpful when we back them up. Further, it’s critical. There is a well-organized right wing that organizes a small but vocal minority of alums to place pressure on their Catholic universities when, for example, speakers who support birth control are brought to campus. This has led to protests of speaking engagements by presidents, cabinet secretaries, and other major players such as the president of Planned Parenthood as if consideration of all sides of an issue is against the principle of higher learning. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I love my world-class university and all it has taught me over the years, including a non-profit management executive certificate I recently completed. What I have also seen is that the right-wing is well-organized in trying to pull Catholic colleges further to the right, at times making threats that they will petition the Vatican to revoke their Catholic status. Such efforts are widely out of step with the base of alums who need you, dear feminist alum, to take leadership. Please stay engaged in your alma mater. Even if you partake in other forms of activism, staying engaged with your former Catholic college could be some of the most important work you do in your lifetime for young women.

Raising A Daughter While Feminist

She is starting to catch on. Her mom is a feminist. I work so girls and boys can be equal. And, she is serving it back in my face.

Eyes flashing, indignant. “Why do we only go to sports with boys?”

Well played, kid. We start to go to the neighbor girl’s basketball games.

Parenting while feminist is a thinker. It starts with an awareness of gender roles and how they are modeled by the parents, including resignation that some things in life are separated traditionally along gender lines, others are shared equally, and other points of pride that some gender norms are turned on their head in the way we divide up the labor within the household.

It is, on some level, letting go:

My daughter loves to dress up like a princess. More. Than. Anything. If I fight it, it’s going to turn into a bigger thing. If I teach her that traditional femininity is wrong, I’m giving her another narrow set of roles. She doesn’t need that.

It is, on another level, planting seeds:

If she says no, she doesn’t want to be tickled, it’s stopped right away. How many times has she heard, “It’s your body, and you are in charge”? Never enough. This is a child who gets several choices every day. She thrives on choices. She deserves choices. She does not get a sugar-coated version of reality. We talk about people in political life who make decisions that hurt people. We don’t pretend like there are two sides to hurting people with less power. The word for that is not conservative, because it is not a worldview. The focus is on the impact, and the word for discriminatory or harmful impact is wrong.

To be clear, feminism is not just about how we raise our daughters. It is not all girl power and self-esteem, though it’s great to give our girls that backing. Feminism at its best is at least as much about how we raise our sons. Parenting is political — very political. Our work as parents is part of our activism.

My girl is coming into her own. She starts kindergarten in the fall. To have been a feminist my entire adult life, and now to have this — it is mind-blowing. Someday she will realize at a deeper level what her mom and her mom’s friends are doing all the time. Someday she will remember going to marches and realize that a lot of kids didn’t do that growing up.

I am looking at the guilt I sometimes feel for working my ass off, for being wrapped up in the movement, my work, for not always being there for her. She may or may not be proud of my work someday. But either way, what she will have seen is strong modeling that if she has kids someday, it’s natural to have her own interests and priorities as well. Not even though she is a girl — because she is a girl.

 

How To Do Media Interviews Like A Champ

You’re an activist. You have an interview with the media coming up. Now what?

Having done a good bit of press myself (and having also been on the media side of the equation), here are my best tips:

Script out what you are going to say.
Write your own talking points. Write out a few different chunks of your top three or five points, each no more than two sentences each. While you may or may not have a chance to say these things, you’ll sound more polished and poised once the questions start coming.

Go in with confidence.
Tell yourself you’re going to do well, and you probably will. If you sit and freak yourself out it’s not going to help once you’re in the interview.

If you’re nervous in the actual interview, keep going.
You may notice that you are flushing or have a rapid heart beat. If you do, keep going. Don’t stop. It feels 900 times more dramatic to you than it appears to someone else. Salute your own survival.

Don’t be afraid to pause and gather your thoughts.
You do not have to answer a question the split second it is given to you. Take a moment to gather your thoughts, and then go forward with your main point.

Smile. Sit up straight.
If you are doing an on-camera interview, smile. Smile so much. Non-verbal communication is what people follow. If you are smiling and sitting up straight, you appear approachable and confident, which makes it easier for people to listen to you.

Save the wild arm movements for exercise class.
Moving your body all around doesn’t look good on camera. It distracts from what you are trying to say, because people are looking to see where your body is headed instead of listening to the words coming out of your mouth. Fold your hands on the table in front of you.

Eliminate filler words and verbal tics to the extent you can.
Don’t beat yourself up during the course of the interview if something slips out, but try to eliminate your ums, uhs, I guesses, likes, and other pieces of verbal filler as much as possible. Ending statements so they sound like a question? Not helpful.

Wear professional clothing.
Patterns are not your friend. Bright colors look great on cameras. Jewelry looks good too, particularly a chunky necklace, but watch out for dangly earrings or sparkly things that could become distracting once magnified by a camera.

Makeup, yes.
Part of looking good on camera is wearing makeup. At a minimum you’ll do much better with some powder for the shine. Wearing more makeup than usual is a good idea. Note that some talk shows will do your makeup before the show, in which case your best bet is to go in with a naked face (and make sure you have some eye makeup remover stocked at home for the aftermath, because holy crap).

Radio interview by telephone? Stand up.
This is the best media advice I’ve received (thanks, Mom!). If you’re doing a radio interview by telephone, stand up. You will naturally begin to speak as if you’re addressing a room, and your voice will project with more confidence and passion.

Answer the questions you want to be asked, and don’t be afraid to decline to answer a question.
You don’t have to answer every question you are asked. If you’re in the context of a live or broadcast interview and you don’t have the option to decline to answer the question directly, answer the questions you think you should have been asked. Pivot as best you can (“the real issue is,” “what everyone should focus on is,” etc.). Remember that you are there to get your points out.

Don’t be afraid to decline an interview.
You don’t have to give an interview to everyone who asks. Not all press is good press. I recently declined an interview request related to a profile for a peer in my field, even on background, which I thought was inappropriate. I’ve declined right-wing outlets, although I accept them far more often than others I know (my belief is that as activists we should be proud to say what we mean everywhere, or what do we think we are doing?). Not all press is good press. Not every outlet deserves the imprimatur of your expertise. This is subjective and requires your judgement. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to say no.

Become familiar with the format first.
If you’re going on a radio show or podcast, listen to previous episodes before you go on. Watch the TV shows coming to you. You’ll have more comfort with the format.

Remember why you are there and everything will be fine.
Activism is about issues. It is not about you. If you think about trying to advance your cause as best you can, you’ll go in with confidence and chutzpah. If you think about looking good, you’ll focus on yourself and be more likely to flounder. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and HAVE FUN!

 

For My Fellow White People After Charlottesville

To my fellow white people looking with disgust upon the white nationalist rally and violence in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, know that the responsibility to address racism is squarely ours.

Go to solidarity vigils. Donate to Black-led organizations and follow their leadership. But most of all, know that some of the most profound activism you can do involves examining and dismantling your own whiteness and encouraging the white people around you to do the same. Your white privilege makes it more likely other white people will listen to you about white privilege.

So please, do the activism and the donations. But that does not absolve your responsibility to talk to your uncle about his racist joke or to challenge the white people on your Facebook feed who think racism doesn’t exist in their own communities. Racism is everywhere, and the responsibility for dismantling it is not just political — it’s deeply personal.

Parenting Is Political

Having a baby changes your life, and that’s true for activists, too. In my microsphere of feminist and progressive activism, I’ve long been uncomfortable with the way children and specifically having children is viewed.

Having kids can be seen as a burden, an impediment to career advancement, a selfish move that hurts the environment, or a means by which women without children are forced to do more work for the people who get to go home early. I’ve heard feminists who don’t have children say all of these things, and I died a little each time. (To be clear, I’ve also encountered feminists who accommodate caregiving and inspire the best of me as a mom and an activist.)

A feminism that directs women to outsmart the reality of caregiving is probably superficial, market-oriented feminism at its worst. By all means, women and all people should be free to live their lives without being accused of having a maternal instinct to tend. Women who don’t have kids are doing right by themselves and don’t need scrutiny or second-guessing or third-party guilt trips. But to conflate the choice of some women not to have kids as an imperative for all women not to have kids or dependents of any kind, if they want to get ahead in the adult world — why, that’s crap.

Children are part of the universe. They are people with needs. Until we accept the presence of people with needs as part of the public and not just private sphere — be they children, adults with disabilities, or seniors in need of help — equality for women is going nowhere. Whether a woman will have children or not, others will use her presumed reproductive capacity and their opinion of her fitness for it to make decisions on her behalf.

It was tough for me to have a baby, and to adjust. I have always been what my husband calls a “gunner.” Prior to having a child I have, at times, run myself ragged chasing my dream of equality. Once I hit a limit to the point that a friend allowed me to sit on the phone stupefied, unable to speak, only able to cry, because I was working so hard (and without pay), completely disconnected from “life.”

More often it was healthy and fun, where instead of watching TV I liked to go to activist meetings and throw protests (I mean, it is more interesting)! In my last incarnation before getting married and having a baby all domestic-like, I was doing work-related things most weeknights and weekends. It was my community and my passion, and mostly, I was having a good time.

Once I had a baby, the activist labor of planning actions/meeting with activists, going to panel discussions and meet ups, and the endless cycle of board and committee meetings most every evening screeched to a halt. And, in the quiet of a burbling baby who needed to be rocked to sleep and would wake up again 10 minutes later, I began to internalize how removed some feminist quarters I occupied were from the reality of so many women’s lives.

It took more time still for me to realize that some of the most profound activist work I can do is not “activism.” It is not shouting the right thing into the bullhorn, or rounding up the permit and building the engagement ladder, or deepening my understanding of privilege and pushing my own boundaries of what it means to accept and love your neighbor. I do not denigrate these things — I do them.

The most profound activist legacy I leave behind may well be my parenting, and if that winds up being true, I see it as no lesser than the accomplishments of starting an organization, speaking truth to power, and forcing change in the public sphere. Giving my daughter a sense of love and justice, and encouraging her questioning and willingness to participate in collective activism, matters.

Parenting can be activism. Parenting can be a more profound contribution of activism than the things people associate with activism. It’s not anti-feminist to believe that. Frankly, the anti-feminist problem may sit in the slice of feminist spaces that don’t explicitly accommodate people with children, that don’t encourage their participation by explicitly welcoming families in actions and meeting spaces, and that don’t explicitly lift up the importance of the caregiving work that so many women do as a site for collective liberation in the the struggle toward equality.

To My Lovely Young Feminists, Don’t Apologize For Being Young

To my lovely young feminists, don’t apologize for being young. You are not “just” an intern or however many years old. You are a person. You deserve to take up space.

In many spaces, declaring yourself a feminist can be hard. Working for change is even harder. Overcoming internalized sexism and other forms of oppression is a bitch. For this, you are strong. Remember that strength and take up the space you deserve.

As women, we are taught to doubt ourselves and our worthiness to be at the table. I have seen this play out especially with young feminists — an identity I held for so long, it turned me old.

This is not to say that older people don’t have something valuable to share. For that matter, a younger person could be more seasoned than an older person within feminism specifically, and this isn’t to say that more experienced people — regardless of age — don’t have something valuable to share. Humility toward the experience of others is an asset. Having the wisdom to listen to others rather than shutting your ears before they open their mouths is a form of maturity that will carry you everywhere.

But as that goes, being young is also a lived experience. Yes, older people were young once, but they are not living the life you lead in this current moment. So it’s important for you to speak up and take up space. In fact, it’s critically important for you to take up space at a time when women of reproductive age are treated with such disdain under the law (and, unfortunately, even by some lawmakers who claim to be on our side but are willing to compromise on our bodies and our humanity in order to win elections or achieve other policy goals).

Don’t apologize for sitting at the table, minimize your opinion, or disclaimer your thoughts with your lack of experience. Clear your throat and say your piece. If you are afraid to do it, hate on the gendered nature of imposter syndrome — and then speak up.

 

Root Your Activism In Your Moral Clarity

I’ve been at social justice work since I was a kid. It didn’t necessarily start with my parents — though they discussed public affairs with me as if I were an adult, they were hardly activists or political people. I just liked to read newspapers and books about politics, and had a strongly felt sense of right and wrong.

My activism started out as general liberal/progressive-type stuff. I started phonebanking in middle school for what could have become Minnesota’s first woman senator, and by the time I hit high school I was dodging the police officer assigned to the outside of the school to catch skipping students (I was out campaigning for Senator Paul Wellstone).

It wasn’t until late high school and early college that my general leftist activism channeled into explicitly feminist activism. I developed anorexia and nearly died, fighting tooth and nail for my life. When I got on the other side of that, I vowed to do whatever I could to help prevent other women and girls from having to go through what I did — or at least, to make it easier for them to get out. I saw my eating disorder as a manifestation of a society that demands women and girls take up less space.

I took a wider view and went into general feminist activism. Women and girls are consistently pressured to take up less space in public life, to have bodies held to impossible standards and open to the public approval and judgement of others, subjected to violence and control, paid less, respected less. The areas where women are most praised for stepping up — presenting ourselves in sexualized ways, for the pleasure of others rather than ourselves; or taking notes at the meeting or having a really clean house —  do not refute my view of less space because they, too, support rigid gender roles that help no one, woman, man, or gender non-conforming. I should note, here, that my commitment to feminism has also kept me on track and in some ways, helped to save my life on an ongoing basis. Having the views I do now makes it pretty hard to go back to hurting my body the way I once did.

Over time, I have specialized more and more in reproductive health, rights, and justice issues, and I see strong links between cultural control over women’s bodies in the form of impossible standards of physical beauty; legal control over women’s bodies in the form of sexual repression and the shame and stigma that supports it; and medical control over women’s bodies in the form of forced C-sections, “religious freedom” with the effect of denying women access to health care in health care settings, denial of accurate medical information for fear we might choose to have abortions, and the like.

Reproductive activism can be a hard field to be involved in — our side loses a lot, the opposition is unhinged more often than not, and terrorism and violence is part of the pro-life movement’s playbook. But frankly, all activism is hard. That’s why I shared my story. The reason why I do my work is rooted in my moral clarity: I’m doing this work because I survived, and I feel a sense of purpose in advancing women and girls. I’m doing this work because if I could stand up to my eating disorder, I can certainly stand up to anti-abortion, sexist, racist, homophobic bullies who are trying to intimidate activists and ordinary people out of the discussion.

If you’re an activist, I encourage you to think about your story. Why do you do the work you do? This is the moral clarity you bring to your work. It will feed you when days and nights are long, and help you avoid burnout (though you also need to take care of your own life or you will burn out — for more on that, see my old post Time Management: Activism Without Losing Your Mind).

Your story and your moral clarity are not a set of political views. They are not an emulation of people you admire or a repudiation of people you can’t stand. They are not about what you think other people should do to move closer to justice in the set of issues you advocate. They are not even your theory of change, or how you think the work should be done.

Your story and your moral clarity are why you, uniquely you, feel motivated to do the work you do. I encourage you to take some time to think about yours, and remember to come back there every so often. This will nourish your work for the long haul. At least it has for me, for my entire adult life.

If you’ve read this far you must be an activist; so long as you’re fighting the good fight, thank you.